Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ten Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Dianne Wenz

With a background in the arts and graphic design, Dianne Wenz was drawn to the vegan lifestyle when she felt her own health transformed after she gave up meat and animal products. Today, she is a Holistic Health Counselor through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Vegan Lifestyle Coach through the Main Street Vegan Academy and Plant-Based Nutrition Specialist. Dianne coaches people from across the country to help them improve their health and well-being, and she guides people make the dietary and lifestyle changes needed to go vegan.

The ever-busy New Jersey resident hosts monthly potlucks, runs charity bake sales, and organizes guest speaker events and, as an avid cook and baker, Dianne also teaches cooking classes in her community. She is also the owner and editor-in-chief of ChicVegan (get their fabulous looking and free e-book when you a sign up for the ChicVegan newsletter), a frequently updated website dedicated to cruelty-free, uncompromising style. Dianne also writes the Meatless Monday column on the NJ dining out website Devil Gourmet. Her articles and recipes have appeared on,, and in Chickpea Magazine and T.O.F.U. Magazine. Read more about Dianne on her website

I love Dianne's positive, common sense approach to her advocacy, and her unabashed enthusiasm for making veganism accessible, fun, stylish and always enjoyable. We need more Diannes in the world, I think you'll agree.

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 a child, I never liked the idea of eating animals. I remember asking my mom why we eat cows and pigs but kept cats and dogs as pets when I was about 8, and she said something to the effect of that’s “just how it is”. There’s that stereotype of kids having to stay at the dinner table until they’ve finished all of their vegetables, but for me, I had to sit there until I finished all of my meat. I remember sitting at the table for what seemed like an eternity when I was about 9 or 10 because I wouldn’t finish a pork chop.

I went to art school after high school, and some of my fellow students were vegetarians. Until then, I don’t think I even realized “vegetarian” was an option. I stopped eating meat in 1992, and I was vegetarian for 9 years. I remember meeting a vegan in the ‘90s and thinking his diet was really extreme. Years later, I was at salad bar getting lunch, and while reaching for a hard boiled egg I suddenly realized what it really was, and I was totally disgusted. I gave up eating whole eggs right there, but I still ate products like cakes and cookies that contained eggs. In 2001 I found a book called The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater’s Guide to Vegetarianism by Mark Warren Reinhardt on the bargain table a bookstore, and even thought I was already vegetarian, I bought it. Before reading that book, I had no idea how bad the egg and dairy industries were. That type of info was really difficult to come by back then. I went vegan over the course of a few months after reading it. Giving up cheese was really difficult for me, because I was totally addicted to it, but I was able to wean myself off of it.

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?

I think the best advice would have been to take things slowly and do it at my own pace. Even after giving up eggs and milk I still had wool area rugs and leather shoes and I felt like a hypocrite. It’s important to know that change doesn’t happen over night. I think striving for progress, not perfection, is the key.

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

I think humor is a good way to convey the vegan message. There’s so much seriousness in the world of animal rights. I’ve heard so much of “I don’t want to know what happens”, or “I’d rather not know where my food comes from,” from omnivores, and it seems to me that when talk gets serious, they tune out. Bringing humor to the subject of veganism gets people to listen.

I’m also a big advocate of activism through food. I’ve been asked “what do you eat?” so many times, so I think it’s important to show that being vegan doesn’t mean depriving yourself of delicious food, and that there really is plenty to eat. When I worked in an office, I started out with cupcakes. I always baked for birthdays and holidays, and I earned the title of The Cupcake Queen. After I lured my coworkers in with sweets, I was able to get them to eat other foods that I made, because I had earned a reputation as a good cook. There were many times when I would heat up leftovers for lunch in the office kitchen, and people would come in and ask what I had because it smelled so good. They often asked for the recipe too.

I now teach cooking class in various places around town and do food demos in stores in my local community. I love seeing the look of surprise on faces when people find out the ingredients of a dish I’ve made. I made creamed kale with cashews at Williams Sonoma last year, and everyone in attendance was floored at how good it was. People even told me that they hated kale but they loved the way I cooked it. One woman who was lactose intolerant was so excited that she could eat “cream” again. I did a demo at a wine shop earlier this year where I served homemade vegan cheese, and people liked my version better than cows’ milk cheese that was being served along side it. Some registered their disappointment that it wasn’t sold in the store.

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

I love seeing the camaraderie and togetherness of vegans. Social media has really helped bring us together, and I see so much support between like-minded people, especially with vegan bloggers and those of us who have vegan businesses. Social media is also a great tool for us seasoned vegans to help newbies. I love it! I joke that there are only really two degrees of separation in the vegan world, and sites like Twitter and Facebook have really helped with that.

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

Right now it seems to me that there are too many factions in the vegan movement, which is causing too much infighting. There are no-oil vegans, health vegans, gluten-free vegans, soy-free vegans, raw food vegans, whole-food vegans,  ethical vegans, environmental vegans… the list goes on. Each group seems to think their way is the right way and everyone else is doing it wrong.  As wonderful as social media can be for bringing us together, it can also create great divides. Just on Facebook alone I’ve witnessed so many negative comments and food policing. If veganism is going to survive as a movement, everyone needs to learn how to get along and stop criticizing each other. I think that if new vegans experience all of this negativity and are told they’re doing it wrong by the food police, it will turn them off and they’ll run the other way. No one wants to join a movement where they’ll be judged and constantly reprimanded.

Because of all of this, I see a lot of confusion as to what veganism actually is. It’s not an elimination diet or a detox program. The definition of a vegan is “a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals.” It has nothing to do with gluten, oil, or salt. I’ve met people who think that gluten isn’t a vegan food. I don’t know about you, but I love my seitan!

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

I’m vegan first and foremost for the animals, but I’ve experienced great health benefits by removing eggs and dairy from my diet. In changing my diet, I’ve also had the pleasure of tasting many different foods and flavors that I never would have experienced as an omnivore.

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 personal evolution?

It may sound kind of silly, but Michael Stipe from R.E.M. was a big influence on me when I first went vegetarian. I didn’t know very many vegetarians, but I was a huge R.E.M. fan and he was very vocal about his vegetarianism. (Sadly, he no longer is.)

The book I mentioned earlier by Mark Warren Reinhardt was key in my transition to veganism, but I think just about any book that talked about the egg and dairy industries would have convinced me to make the switch at the time. There were very little books on either veganism or vegetarianism in the 90s and early 2000s. After I went vegan I bought Living Among Meat Eaters by Carol J. Adams, The Vegan Sourcebook by Joanne Stepaniak, and The Vegetarian Handbook by Gary Null, and they were all a big help with knowing what to eat, where to find products and how to handle the non-veg world. I’ve been subscribing to Vegetarian Times for over 20 years now, and it really helped me learn to cook in the early days of my vegetarianism. My first cookbooks were The Now and Zen Epicure by Miyoko Schinner and The Vegetarian Five-Ingredient Gourmet by Nava Atlas, and they both helped me to get creative in the kitchen and try new dishes.

Back in the early 2000s, I went to a few events in New York City held by Caryn Hartglass and EarthSave, and I got to hear some great speakers, such as Dr. Furhman, Wayne Pacelle, and Rynn Berry before anyone really knew who they were. They were so influential and inspiring. Veganism was so new to me, and I didn’t know very many other vegans at the time. It was so helpful to be surround by so many like-minded people.

Now there are so many great books, films, and vegan visionaries – it’s so difficult to narrow down a list. I love Victoria Moran and Main Street Vegan, Kathy Stevens and Catskills Animal Sanctuary, Gene Baur and Farm Sanctuary. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is a great book, and the new film Speciesism is really wonderful. There are tons and tons of wonderful blogs and websites – I could list them all but it would take days!

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

Yes, sometimes I even get sick of the word “vegan”. I find that spending time with animals helps. I love visiting animal sanctuaries, like Catskills Animal Sanctuary and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, which aren’t that far away. Attending vegan events helps too. I recently attended The Seed in New York City, and it was so wonderful to be in a room full of so much energy! There were tons of great vegan companies, and a lot of inspiring vegan speakers. Those events always help renew my inspiration. I host vegan potlucks and other events through a MeetUp group I run. Relaxing and enjoying great food with fellow vegans always helps too.

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

Other than trying to get the world to go vegan, I’m really passionate about cats. I’m most definitely a crazy cat lady. I want everyone to spay and neuter their pets and adopt a bunch of cats. I wish all of the cats of the world could have such loving homes as mine do.  

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

… about compassion and respect for all living beings.

Thanks for all you do, Dianne!

Thanks to everyone else for visiting my humble blog. Please visit my website for vegan recipes, tips, interviews, reviews, message gear and much more.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Sadness and the Power of Knowing...

It’s interesting to me that even after being vegan for nearly twenty years, a simple question can still create such an unintentionally fervent storm within: What is the hardest part about being vegan? I think the people asking this would expect vegans to say that it’s most difficult to eat out, that family meals are problematic, that Thanksgiving is a pain, and it’s true, sometimes different situations can present challenges but they are usually more of an annoyance than a true impediment.

I was reminded of this recently when we posted this same question on the Vegan Street Facebook page and of the hundreds of responses we received, again and again we heard that the hardest part of being vegan is knowing what is inflicted upon animals - by the year, by the day, by the minute, in real time as we sit at our computers or brush our teeth - and needing to continue carrying on with our lives despite knowing this. There is an emotional bluntness that can be hard to mute when we’re asked this question, yet we’ve learned that the truth is too real for most people to hear about so we dance around a candid depiction of our experience. We water it down with a message that is more palatable. We change the subject because speaking about this honestly to anyone who is not vegan will likely not be understood. We keep our composure when we feel like crying. (Or we try to do that, at least in public.) We move on. Despite this, for many of us, the hardest part of being vegan is in the knowing.

It’s knowing what we know and realizing that we have to carry on with our own lives even as these other innocent lives are filled with completely needless torment and suffering. It’s knowing that gentle calves are torn from their mothers and when this happens, more than 100,000 times each day, their mothers often bellow and mourn in ways we can’t even imagine, and the cycle continues until they no longer produce enough milk and it’s time for them to become cheap meat. It’s talking about this to someone who is eating a salad sprinkled with cheese, being able to see the destroyed mothers and babies in the cheese that is not visible to most others, and remain composed.

It’s knowing that newly hatched male layer chicks are destroyed because they are worthless to the industry. It’s knowing that their mothers continue their cycle of laying egg after egg until they are depleted and then they must also become cheap meat. It’s knowing the fate of their female chicks and seeing billboards for .99 breakfast biscuits on our way to work, advertised on the subway, on the fast food bags blowing out of the garbage cans as we walk past.

It’s the beaks, tails, horns, testicles and whatever else that’s inefficient cut off and tossed out without anesthesia or follow-up care; it’s the ear tags, notches, tattoos and branding. It’s the castration and it’s the rape, day in and day out. It’s the numbing ubiquity of their commodification. It’s the sheer, paralyzing immensity of the violence and the deeply embedded habits that make people blind to it.  

Knowing all this is how an innocent question becomes an unavoidably prickly one.

Still, we live our lives because there is no pressing pause on the world as it is, on things as they are, so we continue on as best we can, knowing what we know, seeing what we’ve seen, trying to change hearts and minds as we go. It’s painful and most of the time, even though I have dedicated my life to spreading the message of veganism, I shut the ugliness out of my mind because I don’t know how I could live effectively if I didn’t. There is no un-knowing it, though. It’s always there, just below the surface, at the ready. It can spring out like a jack-in-the-box when we hear someone make a bacon joke, if anyone boasts about their cage-free eggs, when our mother-in-law asks if she can take her grandson to McDonald’s but also when someone asks us for vegan recipes, for alternatives to zoos, if we can give them information about the dairy industry. No matter the context, this knowing is there, it is part of us.

The bright side to knowing is the empowerment that comes from also knowing that we are not contributing to the violence and offering the example of another way of living. When people are on the precipice of going vegan, I think often they fear what they think their lives may look like, living in a world that is so profoundly enmeshed in exploitation, of feeling the vulnerability that comes with being different. This fear of vulnerability can cause people on the edge to back up and close off. What they are not seeing, though, is that despite the pain that comes from knowing, there is a tremendous opportunity to transcend business as usual, and in this transcending, they will reap countless rewards. It is scary to expose ourselves to knowing, though, and it’s also scary be on the verge of breaking with the status quo. This is why I feel that knowing what we know is at once our greatest vulnerability and, ironically perhaps, also our greatest strength. As with so much in life, there is a price to pay with moving outside of one’s comfort zone, with knowing, with being vulnerable. When the alternative is sealing off our hearts, living in denial, and limiting our growth to make others comfortable, it is a price well worth paying and I am grateful to be able to pay it every day.

While I write this, cows are forcibly impregnated. Chickens are stressed as they are put through forced molting. Babies are pulled from their mothers. Aquatic life suffocates in massive nets that dredge the ocean. Animals are trucked to slaughterhouses. Bolts are shot into brains. Throats are slit. This is happening at this moment and there is no getting around that. The best we can do is help people awaken to it and empower them to take positive actions. Yes, it is lousy to know. The alternative, though? It is immeasurably worse. 

Thank you for visiting my humble blog. Please visit my website for vegan recipes, tips, interviews, reviews, message gear and much more.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

10 Questions: Foodie Edition with Robin Robertson

A recipe-creating machine come to life, Robin Robertson might very well be one of the vegan movement’s most important players. As someone who has created a profusion of cookbooks over years that span the range from easy, one-pot recipes to elegant, festive party food, slow-cooker meals  to, well, the vegan kitchen bible, Robin brings a true passion to cuisines from around the globe, as well as an endless curiosity, ample respect and a ton of knowledge. Each time I get another one of Robin’s cookbooks to review - and it seems like every other week or so - I am floored by the breadth and the depth of her knowledge as it’s hard to have so much knowledge while avoiding dilettantism. Not only is her culinary knowledge rich and impressive, but she brings to the table recipes that are uncomplicated but rich in flavor, accessible but always interesting. In short, I am an unapologetic fangirl.

With a professional background as a chef, caterer and restaurant industry consultant, today Robin keeps producing cookbooks, writes for other publications and, with the Vegan Heritage Press she runs with her husband, is helping to nurture emerging vegan cookbook authors. Living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and impossibly photogenic kitties, Robin Robertson is the gift that keeps on giving. With another cookbook coming out very soon and who knows how many more to come, Robin is a tireless asset to our community. I’m grateful to have been able to take a little of her time for the following Ten Questions Q&A.

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?

My mother was a great cook – she never measured anything, and her dishes always turned out perfectly.  She would let me help in the kitchen when I was a child, so my love of cooking started quite early. 

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?

Our family meals consisted of mostly Italian food, combined with typical American, and a little Hungarian. My mom always included lots of vegetables in our diet – even as a child I loved Italian-style escarole and white beans with garlic.  I now make all those meals and recreate traditions from my childhood using vegan ingredients, including my favorite – Italian Easter Pie (a special savory pie traditionally made with sausage, cheese, and eggs).

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

I like to think I haven’t experienced it yet – that always gives me something to look forward to!  So far, though, I think I can narrow it down to a few stand-outs: my first meal at Millennium many years ago, because it was my first vegan “fine dining” experience, and I thought this is how all restaurants should be!  Another great food experience were the “accidentally vegan” meals I enjoyed in Tuscany, most notably the grilled polenta sticks with sautéed fresh porcini mushrooms at a little café in Lucca.  Unbelievable.  I also recall the amazing multi-course Thai meal at Arun’s in Chicago several years ago was also stellar.  That’s where I first tasted those little leaf-wrapped appetizers called  miang kham (filled with morsels of coconut, shallot, chili, lime, and  ginger) – a flavor explosion in one bite.  Also, every time I dine at Plant in Asheville, NC I’m inclined to say it’s the best vegan meal I ever had!

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’d love to cook a special meal for my mother. She passed away just as I was going vegan, so I never got a chance to cook vegan for her (and she never got to see any of my cookbooks).  I’d probably make some traditional family foods that I’ve veganized, such as ravioli and brasciole.  Maybe I’d make her favorite apple pie for dessert. 

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


Over the years, I’ve found that many people tend to UNDER-salt the food they cook. Often, all it takes for a dish to go from bland to “wow” is a little more salt!

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

Fresh locally grown seasonal produce always captures my attention.  Last week, I had the BEST blueberry pie because it was made with hand-picked local berries, and the most unbelievably good potato salad made with potatoes that we dug ourselves that morning and lightly dressed with Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo – my new favorite vegan mayo. 

7. You are restricted to one ethnic cuisine for the rest of your life. What would you like it to be?

Since I love Thai and Italian food equally, I’d have to create a hybrid cuisine that would allow me to enjoy foods from each of those cuisines every other day.

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

The individuals and organizations dedicated to animal rights and welfare have had the most influence on me personally.  I could never do what they do, but I find inspiration in their selfless dedication to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. 

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

Animal welfare. There are so many ways in which animals suffer at the hands of humans, so it’s important that we do everything possible to tip the balance in favor of the animals.  I’m passionate about helping animals any way I can – the reason I write cookbooks is for the animals – the more people I can help go vegan, that less animals that will be eaten for food.  But we can all do more to help all kinds of animals, even in small ways, from alerting authorities when a dog is left in a hot car, to boycotting products that test on animals, to donating time or money to animal sanctuaries and shelters.  Even something as simple as taking a shelter dog for a walk, or playing with shelter cats for an hour can brighten their lives – and yours too.

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

I’ll finish that sentence three – no, make it four -- times:
“To me, veganism is…Love."
“To me, veganism is…Compassion.”
“To me, veganism is…Life.”
“To me, veganism is…Delicious.”

Thank you for all you do, Robin!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to Gain Fame and Fortune as an Ex-Vegan in Roughly Five Easy Steps


Have you been feeling a little attention starved lately? Do you have a sinking feeling that the social media gravy train is leaving the station and worry because you’re not a celebrity yet? (How did this not happen???) Is your YouTube channel mostly just filled with comments from your mother and the occasional foot fetishist? Has your blog centered around pugs making pithy comments on Mid-Century Modern furniture not resulted in the lucrative book deal you were hoping for yet? 

Friend, it may be time for you to learn how you can “go vegan” and then quit it for fame and fortune. I see your confusion: Wait -- what? Really, it’s true. The beauty of this plan is its sheer simplicity and elegant economy: all you need to do is embrace veganism and then dump it like a demanding, high-strung boyfriend who bosses you around all day.  The key to monetizing your putative vegan lifestyle is to have a very public breakup with it that the public will be eager to applaud. I will provide the template of what you need to do but turning it into a profit-making venture is up to you.  

1. Go Vegan and Get Fans

Okay, don’t freak out: you don’t really need to go vegan but you should at least leave a photo trail of green smoothies and massaged kale salads on Instagram or wherever.  Think aspirational. Think branding opportunities. Think of a glass of cantaloupe juice in a Ball jar on your balcony ledge with the sun rising behind it. Project your life to the public as if you were the living embodiment of a vision board cut exclusively from Anthropologie and Free People catalogs. Ask yourself, what would Lana Del Rey do if she were a future ex-vegan with a sunnier disposition? Experiment with the most retro-quaint filter you can get on your Instagram (maybe Toaster or 1977) and take pictures of every single thing you eat and drink as long as it’s imbued with virtue. If what you photograph is not aspirational, choose a better filter and embellish with a pretty vintage spoon or embroidered cloth napkin. Get some clouds in the background, maybe some sand, put your feet in the shot once in a while (make sure you’ve had a decent pedicure) and Photoshop some simple words on the pictures. Think metro-meets-retro. Just when you think you’ve added too many hashtags, slap on a few more. If you really want this to pay off for you, ex-vegan, you’ve go to big or go home. Writing in complete sentences is an impediment to getting a lot of fans, which should be your entire objective at this point. Some examples: #raw, #greensmoothie, #kaleaholic, #fallinlovewithyourself, #detox, #juicing, #veganforlife, #ihavenoideawhatimsaying, #blessed, #livingthelife.  At this point, you feel sooooooo great and you should have fans who think you are just phenomenal. 

2. Restrict

Start out slow but eventually you will need to go really overboard with dietary restrictions that have nothing to do with veganism. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Anything that you can cut out, cut it out. (Or just pretend that you did.) Develop a sudden but intense aversion to nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, oil, sugar, salt, gluten, nightshades, garlic, combining fruits and vegetables, water that isn’t reverse-osmosis filtered, and on and on. Connect it to your veganism even though there are no connections. As far as the viewing public is concerned, your life is still #blessed and you are still #healthyandhappy. (And the foreshadowing strings would commence...NOW.)

3. Suffer in Silence

At Stage Three, you will still need to commit to at least a couple of months more of your public life as a vegan and it is during this time when you will want to start to falter. Break a nail. Stub your toe. Twist your ankle. Get a stuffy nose. Grow an eyebrow hair that is just too long. In retrospect, you will say that this was all unprecedented and almost certainly linked to your diet because it had never happened before. Meanwhile, keep posting images of your green smoothies with the retro-quaint filter and the aspirational hashtags. #Partoftheprocess. Know that when you start the Fourth Stage, you will need to claim that during the Third Stage, behind the scenes and cloaked in secrecy, you were actually terrified and perhaps even dying of malnutrition and maybe even a chlorophyll-induced psychosis. Your family was scared. Your high-speed blender seemed to have evil intentions. Looking back at Stage Three, be sure to claim that late at night, when you weren’t staring at the ceiling in the clutches of a panic attack brought on by nutritional deficiencies, you had visions of a steak, rare and bloody, dancing through your head. You were so ashamed.

4. Cheat 

This is where you will begin living as a non-vegan again, though not online yet. Start out by eating cage-free eggs. You will say that they tasted “so good” but also that you “hated yourself.” You will have to claim to notice that this gave you energy again and your period magically reappeared and your ankle stopped being sprained and you just had a sudden glow that people stopped to tell you about. In your break-up letter to veganism in Step Five, you will claim that you couldn’t just stop at eggs and so at this stage, you will put on your sunglasses, wrap a scarf all dramatically but stylishly around your hair (think Sophia Loren in a spy movie circa 1958) and buy some meat at the most adorable farmers market in town, the one where all the farmers are so friendly and kind. You will hide it in your bag - or claim to (again, facts are not all that relevant here) - and eat the chicken or the steak or whatever in secrecy in your apartment. Again, repeat that it tasted “so good” and you “hated yourself” but also that you couldn’t stop yourself. Your story here is that at this point, you started to tell a few trusted friends. They will support your decision, saying that they were so worried about how skinny-obsessive-weird you were getting. With each bite of meat, you will claim to feel less guilty and more relieved. 

A. You will claim to talk to others like you, people who lived as vegans but in fact were living a double-life. They were too scared to talk in public about it, though.

B. You will claim that by owning your truth, you will help help liberate others who have been oppressively shackled by the vegan powers that be. Attach this to a hazily articulated feminist-but-not-all-feminist-like-you-don’t-shave belief. Think Beyonce.

5. Renounce Your Veganism 

Publicly break up with veganism. This is where it starts getting fun. Write a long, melodramatic, nonsensical screed - again, the words don’t really matter - where you say that you are so very scared of the backlash (rest assured that you will, in fact, mostly be told again and again how brave you are) but you need to “listen to your body.” Say that you can now see that you were starving, losing your mind, your family, your friends and your chance to have babies in the future because of this crazy diet. Now instead of being vegan,  you are seeking sanity and farm-fresh eggs, hormone-free meat and dairy. Some key buzzwords/hashtags to hammer again and again: #balance, #listeningtomybody, #balanceisthenewblack, #vegansarebullies, #itsonlyfood, #joy, #wholehealth, #sorrynotsorry. You refuse to be silenced anymore by the vegan mafia. (Act like there really is a vegan mafia after you.)

Okay, how you will now exploit it next is up to you. Shop your story around. Post it to your thousands of fans (you’ve acquired them by now, right?). Say “balance” and “my body told me” again and again for good measure. You can’t say it enough. Remember that 97 - 98% of the population is very comforted by your message. And if Good Morning America and People Magazine don’t come calling? If you don’t get a book deal from a big publishing house for a tell-all about your four harrowing months and near-death experience as a deprived vegan? I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe you can try medical billing from home. Apparently there’s still some money in that.

Thanks for visiting my humble blog. Please visit my website for vegan recipes, tips, interviews, reviews, message gear and much more.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

10 Questions: Foodie Edition with Allison Rivers Samson

One of my very favorite aspects of being involved in our community is getting to know some truly impressive people. From way back when we started Vegan Street in its first incarnation to the revitalized one we created last year, I've had the great fortune of meeting these people in person whom I had previously only admired from afar. Very rarely has the person disappointed in the flesh. Today's interview subject, the first of this series that I plan to do twice a month, is no exception.

I met Allison Rivers Samson of Allison's Gourmet earlier this month at Vegetarian Summerfest. As someone who has been active in the movement since before I first got involved in the mid-1990s, it was a pleasure to meet Allison in person. With big dimples (I think she should insure these through Lloyd's of London or something) and an elfin grin, beautiful sugar-and-cocoa hair (her version of salt-and-pepper, but also with purple frosting), bright eyes and a cheerful demeanor, Allison is a warm and vivacious ambassador for the vegan movement, which is so often unfairly characterized as being about pleasure denial. With her focus on creating voluptuous treats that are both ethically sourced and unapologetically pleasurable, Allison has proven that we can enjoy the best of both worlds without any sacrifice to our ethics or our enjoyment. It had been a real honor to get to know Allison. I am thrilled for you to get to know her, too. (Please check out her videos to see those dimples for yourself!)

Today we will be starting a contest that will run through July 30 at midnight Pacific time: please let us know your favorite comfort food you'd love to see veganized in the comments below and you could win a free download of Allison's popular e-cookbook, Comfortably Yum. If you don't win, don't despair because there is something for everyone: anyone who orders between now and July 30 at midnight Pacific time will get $3.00 off Comfortably Yum with the code VEGANSTREET.
Get in on it!

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?

ARS: Growing up, I learned less of a passion for food than a disordered way of eating and relating to food, from the various diets my mom and her parents regularly took up and discussed. While I didn’t know anyone who enjoyed food and cooking, my maternal grandparents did spend time in the kitchen, there just didn’t seem to be much joy around it. As an only child of a single mother, I was a latch-key kid and ate a lot of TV dinners. When I became old enough to cook, I made mac ’n cheese from a box, Steak-Umms, and junk I wouldn’t remotely refer to as food nowadays.

At the age of 15, I moved from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle and had a lifestyle shift as drastic as the shift in climate and I began to gain weight. Throughout my childhood, I had listened to my family of origin struggling so much with weight that I wondered if that was a predestined path that I had no power over. A short while later, a friend of mine told me about Fit for Life, which was focused on food combining. I quickly realized that it would be easier to do as a vegetarian and easily made the switch. I was 17 or 18 when I first started hearing about veganism. Then I read Diet for a New America, which really helped to put everything into place for me.

During this period, in the late 1980s, another friend I worked with liked to cook and she encouraged me to play in the kitchen. I had so little familiarity with cooking and ingredients that if I didn’t have everything a recipe called for (even rosemary!), I thought I couldn’t make it.

Sweets were always my muse, so I thought that if I could buy some vegan baked goods that tasted good, I’d be able to go vegan easily. Well, in those days, the selection was dismal so I decided to follow my muse into the kitchen and play. Over the months, I would bring in baked goods to share with my co-workers who urged me to sell them and I kind of shrugged it off. A while later, I left that job - I was selling Birkenstocks - and started working for the largest natural foods distributor on the West Coast. My position was fairly stressful and I found that my morning inspiration drew me into the kitchen and my need to decompress and nurture myself. I started to realize that there was a 9:00 - 5:00 interruption in my passion and decided to remedy that. 

In 1997, I went to a natural cooking school to refine my vegan baking skills. It wasn’t a vegan-only curriculum but they were fairly focused on offering a vegan food education at the time. My first offerings were to sell desserts to restaurants and cafés in Seattle while I was living on Vashon Island (accessible only by ferry) near the city. I soon discovered that traveling by ferry and then driving around distributing treats was eating up all my time and profits so I turned to the post office to become my delivery system and focused primarily on being a mail order business. I needed to figure out a good product line that was shippable and that was how Allison’s Cookies was born in 1997.

Meanwhile, I had people begging me – individuals I sold to and café owners – literally begging me to make brownies. Back then, the only recipes for vegan brownies relied on tofu. I don’t like adding tofu to chocolate because I feel like they contrast. Tofu has an astringent quality and draws away from the palate, whereas chocolate likes to dance with saturated fat, which is the role of cocoa butter. I remembered in cooking school that my baking teacher told me it was impossible to make a vegan brownie without tofu because you need to replace four eggs and two sticks of butter and that’s simply too much to replace. One café owner was so persistent and his standards were different than mine; he really wanted the brownies and I had no solutions yet. All I had was tofu and a personal reluctance. Surprisingly, they were better than any vegan brownie I had tasted and yet there was this little thought from which I couldn’t escape - get the tofu out of the brownies! I wanted the brownies to be made from real ingredients people could actually find in their own cupboards and for over four years I played and played and played until I finally cracked the code. It wasn’t easy but I did it. Naturally, I felt very accomplished that day and even more gratified when my brownies became award-winning.

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?

ARS: Although I grew up on processed, convenience, and frozen foods, I still had my traditions. My mom and I used to go out for breakfast a lot and my favorites were pancakes, waffles, and french toast (not all at once of course!). Today, we have a Sunday brunch tradition in our house and we often make waffles or pancakes or French toast, usually with a tofu scramble, kale, some black beans. My husband has loved playing in the kitchen with me over the years and has become an accomplished cook himself. His claim to fame is the most amazing gluten-free Belgian waffles. Yum! 

Another tradition we had in my younger years was Thanksgiving at my grandparents house with all the traditional dishes. When it comes to things, I am not a very sentimental person although when my grandmother died, she left her china and silver to me. At the time, I was too young to appreciate this gift, so my mom held onto it and when she passed away, my grandmother’s china came to me. We like to host Thanksgiving at our house and we serve it on her beautiful china, which she used daily, not just for special occasions. Even though the food is very different, I like having that crossover connection to my grandmother through her china.

Comfort food holds a special place in my heart and was the source of inspiration behind my award-winning magazine column, Veganize It!, and now, my e-book, Comfortably Yum. I see myself as a “bridger” between the omnivore world and the vegan world and my mission is to show that there is much deliciousness to be found in plants that it is so much better for all involved without any sacrifices. Comfort food is my entry point; a way to get people to try something made with very different ingredients yet very familiar without any of the downsides. Same thing with Allison’s Gourmet. In the old days, I used preface my sharing with “Here, try my vegan cookie, made without this and without that.” I’ve learned instead to offer my food and ask, “How do you like it?” Thankfully the answer is always positive, if not effusive, and then I say, “That’s so great. It’s vegan!” I feel like people have been tricked into eating garbage for so long and my intention is to “trick” them into eating something that’s healthier: good for them, the animals, and the environment.

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

ARS: Oh, wow, this is a very hard question. I have had SO many amazing meals that there is no way I could single out one of them. Food is such a huge part of my life that it is a main deciding factor in my travel plans. Whenever I go to a new town, my first “task” is to explore the vegan scene, tourist attractions and museums are nice but much less appealing. Suffice it to say I have had numerous memorable meals over the years. 

Easier, I could tell you about some of my favorite restaurants. Of course Millennium in San Francisco tops the list. Once we drove three hours into the city and back home in the same day just to have dinner there. (I apologize for the carbon emissions but the food is that good, even after all these years.) Recently, I went to Karyn’s on Green in Chicago and it was fantastic. I even went off my normal gluten-free diet to try the bread pudding and even without a speck of chocolate (my favorite!), it was so phenomenal. Sublime in Miami, Candle Café in New York, Plum Bistro in Seattle all come to mind as favorites. Crossroads and M Café, both in L.A. Gracias Madre in San Francisco… I could go on! Vedge in Philadelphia is on my must-try list as is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s upcoming Modern Love Omaha.

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

ARS: I would love to have the experience of cooking in the kitchen with my Italian paternal grandmother, learning all about her recipes and veganizing them with her by my side. I was eight or nine when she died and I hear that she was a wonderful cook. It would be a thrill to interpret her recipes through a vegan framework. 

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

ARS: Can we have a vacation from the overuse of garlic? Not that it isn’t wonderful and should never be used, more that the over-reliance displaces an opportunity to explore other flavors. Depending only on limited flavors in general is a problem.

It’s important to take into consideration both texture and flavor; the art of building flavor is critical.

How about if we avoid relying on packaged ingredients and instead use whole foods?

Let’s stop coming from the perspective that vegan food is lacking or needs to be apologized for, making it seem like a noble but less sensual experience. Make good food, make it with love, and serve it JOYfully!

I would also recommend that home cooks prioritize cooking, be adventurous and try unusual ingredients, maybe make it a goal to play with at least one new ingredient each month.

Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone a bit and play. 

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

I am so into all the fresh vegetables coming from my garden right now. We have this heirloom lettuce that is so beautiful, green and crisp: that was so delicious that I didn’t even need dressing. Also, the figs from our fig tree, they’re called King Desert figs and are absolutely exquisite. They are so amazing that I can’t bear to do anything with them but eat them straight. Kala namak – also known as black sulphuric salt – has been one of the my favorites for some years now. I use it in scrambles and frittatas, as well as in my tofu salad from Comfortably Yum, my frittata. I also love smoked salt.

7. You are restricted to one ethnic cuisine for the rest of your life. What would you like it to be? 

No way! Why this unnatural imposition? I refuse to be restricted. ;-) Let’s negotiate instead… I could maybe do one different cuisine a month. My top three are Italian, Mexican and Japanese cuisines. I love Italian food for the sultry sauces and richness, Mexican for the fresh vegetables and chiles, and Japanese for the pure ingredients that are clean, distinct, and simple on the palate. 

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

I have had so many influences and supporters on this path that the way I see it is that wherever I am on my path, the next person I meet will propel me further and enrich my experience. I’ve had many teachers who have deepened my life; John Robbins is one. Kim Sturla of Animal Place farmed animal sanctuary, she is one of the most inspiring people I know. My daughter, Olivia, is my little guru. My husband, too, is so supportive and encouraging of me and my work. And all the animals I have had the honor of living with and meeting throughout my life have been essential teachers to me.

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

Something that I have been thinking about a lot for a while is that we can’t be vegan for just one reason and be effective as vegans. The three most common motivators to going vegan are health, the animals and the environment. I hear a lot of people focusing on one to the exclusion of the others and I think it’s a huge mistake. If we’re vegan only for our health, it’s a selfish reason and we’re missing out on a deeper experience. Also, people are more inclined to drop it whenever some new study (usually paid for by the very things they’re promoting) comes out touting eggs, dairy, fish, whatever. If someone is vegan just for the animals, not for themselves at all, my heart sinks a bit because it’s as if they don’t consider themselves worthy of consideration. People are more likely to fail at being a thriving vegan when they don’t care about their well-being. Not only do they run the risk of having poor health and then conclude that the diet doesn’t work for them - which is a crushing realization for an ethical vegan - but then they are not good ambassadors for this beautiful lifestyle. If we’re vegan just for the environment it’s just too far removed. If someone is vegan for the polar bears and that person doesn’t have a personal connection to the polar bears, the hot pepperoni pizza that’s right in front of them at the restaurant will win out. We need at least two of these reasons – our own health, compassion for animals, and concern about the planet – for veganism to root firmly within us.

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

“:...The easiest way to accomplish every one of my values in a single act.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Meeting of the Trolls...

“Good morning, everyone. Today is the - what is it? - 2031st meeting of the Alliance of the Hater Brigade. Thanks for coming, everyone. I think we’re going to start our meeting now.”

“It’s about time. This has been a total waste.”

“Actually, IronMan77, it’s right on time. Anyway, you’ll find refreshments in the back -”

“Same crap, different meeting.”


“Well, if you wanted something else, I suppose you could have brought something, Zeus’sThunderbolt. Now, according to my notes, tonight’s meeting is about "New Strategies in Trolling." Today we’re going to discuss vegans and what to do about them. So, let’s get right into it: a vegan recipe pops up in your Facebook feed -- what do you write?”

“Oh! I know: Mmm, bacon!”

“That would look better with some meat in it.”

“Call on me! Call on me!”

“You can just shout it out, TitMouse. Remember, you’re a troll.”

“Duh, plants feel pain.”

“They do, I know. TitMouse is right. I saw this one video once that proves it.”


“F*#cking vegans and their judgments. I’d say, ‘What about the carrots and celery you eat? Why don’t you feel sorry for them, you hypocritical crybaby?’”



"Nazi terrorists!"

“I knew a vegan once who died. It’s not healthy.”

“Okay, GrumpyCat’sMeow is bringing up an excellent strategic point. If we can bring personal anecdotes into what we say, they can’t be disputed, no matter how irrelevant or fabricated. GrumpyCat, let’s role play here -”

“Heh, you said role play.”

“Who’s the doctor and who’s the nurse?”


“No, really. Let’s, you know, act this out. How can you bring your personal anecdote into, say, a vegan recipe share to defeat it right away? Let’s imagine that I’m a vegan who really annoys you and I just shared a recipe. What could you say, GrumpyCat?

“That’d be better with bacon.”

“Right, yes, but remember the anecdote thing? I really want to explore the possibilities with that.”

“Oh, yeah. You think you’re so healthy but I once worked with a vegan who died.”

“Okay, let’s flesh that out. Remember, I’m a vegan who annoys you. Tell me what happened.”

“Well, he got hit by a car.”

“And... I don't mean to reverse-troll you, but how is this related to his veganism?”

“He was going to the farmers market. I’m not actually sure that he was vegan, though. He ate vegetables. And, actually, I’m not even sure if he died because I just heard about it. Or maybe I saw it on Law & Order: SVU. I can’t really remember now that I think of it.”

“So this is the kind of stuff you might want to leave out of the story -”

“No, it was Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

“No, it was Criminal Minds. I’m sure of it.”

“Regardless, Darwin’sMonkey, the point is that if we want to successfully derail a thread, we need to move forward with confidence and avoid getting into that confusing realm where we question ourselves or others find flaws in what we wrote. This is why sticking to personal anecdotes is useful: they are impossible to prove wrong. Okay, now I’d like to discuss other strategies for sidetracking vegan content. What else have people found useful?”


“Okay, what about specifically about bacon, RAR444?”

“Just ‘bacon.’ It’s elegant, simple, to the point.”

“Yeah, the beauty is you don’t need to say anything else. Bacon is a universal language.”

“Or ‘Mmm, bacon.’ You can also just say it out of nowhere. That really pisses off the vegans. They all get, like, so pissed. It’s hilarious.” 


“Also, ‘That would taste better with bacon.’ Speaking of, there’s the whole ‘If God didn’t want us to eat animals, why would He make them out of meat?’ thing.”

“I know! No one can say a damn thing to that either because it’s so, you know, true.”

“Speaking of God, you can also bring up abortion. That either stops things in their tracks or creates completely unreadable threads that go on for hundreds and hundreds of comments and everyone ends up hating one another. Creates an awesome mess. You could do that.” 


“I personally like hitting vegans with the double-whammy of abortion and then the fact that they walk on ants or breathe in microscopic life forms.”

“Oh! I’ve got one! I’ve got a good one!”

“Go ahead, Fanny’sPack.”

“‘What about all the animals killed to grow grains? Huh?’”

“Again, not to reverse-troll, but aren’t they killed to grow the grains that are fed to animals for the most part? I’m just bringing this up because we want to have our story straight -”

“Soy! Switch right then to soy and the dangers of it.”

“Link: Mercola. Link: Natural News. Link: Weston Price Foundation.” 


“Saying, ‘What about soy?!” can net good results. Meaning I’m not sure what but it’s something to say.”

“You know, ‘Blah-blah-blah, soy, blah-blah-blah, hormones, blah-blah-blah, whatever.’”

“Two words: Man boobs.”


“I know a guy who was vegan and he had to wear a bra.”

“Whoa, is that true?”

“No, but does it matter?”


“So you’re saying to move the goal posts in your arguments? That’s a common but useful strategy.”

“Yeah, just keep putting up link after link, whether those links are relevant or not, no matter the source. It makes things look legit. Imagine that you’re some hotshot trial lawyer: What about this? And what about this? It’s very intimidating. I’m guessing. And then saying, ‘Did you even read my link?!’”

“Don’t forget that you can also move the goal posts by making it personal.”

“Please give us an example, DingleTingle.”

“Like, ‘I think it’s fine that you’re vegan but it’s the self-righteousness that I have a problem with. Every vegan I know is a smug POS.’ True story.”

“Okay, so I am thinking that now would be the perfect time to back this up with a great anecdote. Could you reinforce it with a story about a vegan you know, DingleTingle.”

“I don’t actually know any vegans. I haven’t left my parent’s basement in two years.”

“Right. We know. That’s why we’re meeting here.”

“Does it matter if you don’t know any vegans? What are you made of, bro? Why should that stop you from making up sh*t about them?”

“Or, like, you could say, ‘It’s fine for you to be vegan but don’t try to force me to go vegan.’”

“Or, ‘It’s my personal choice to eat meat.’ Saying personal choice makes it sound laywer-y or something.”

“Post a link to that sick vegan baby news story.”


“Why do you speak in the caps lock, MsOgyny? You realize how annoying that is, right?”


“I mean, you do want people to at least somewhat pay attention to what you’re saying, right?”


“I guess I’m not clear on your objective here. And what are you ‘LOL-ing’ about anyway?”


“Oh, that reminds me: Bring up Vitamin B-12. Oh, that one is a killer.”

“Canine teeth, too. Iron-clad argument there.”

“You can also play on the emotions, like, how you were raised or your background or whatever.”


“I’m going to ignore you at this point, MsOgyny. So, for example, saying that your great-grandfather owned a butcher shop or something?”


“But what does that have to do with you today? Like how can you leverage that?”

“Make it out like vegans are an affront to your ancestry.”

“Oh, so it gets into that personal realm that gets highly charged and is difficult to challenge. Great tactic.”

“Right. And you can get really bent out of shape about it, you know. Keep embellishing things, keep taking things personally.”


“You could say that you tried to go vegan but you have some condition where you can only digest animal protein. That usually shuts them up. Or claim that you tried to go vegan and all your hair fell out. Or all the vegans you know are rail thin. Or all the vegans you know are obese. Or whatever. Just pick whatever.”

“The WiFi here sucks, by the way.”

“Or you could say that you can’t eat most vegetables. Then it becomes a life-or-death situation or discrimination.”

“Post a picture of PETA doing something wacky.”

“The ‘refreshments’ here suck, too.”

“What about oysters? Hmm?”

“Don’t be afraid to pull the Hitler card.”

“Plants feel pain!”

“Someone already said that, bro. I think it was you, in fact.”

“So? I’m saying it again. Don’t censor me.”


“Could we just Skype next time? It’s, you know, 2014.”

“It seems like things are winding down here.”


“I think we made some progress.”

“It’s all good.”

“You could also bring up amino acids or complementary proteins or something.”


“I didn’t claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat lettuce.”


“Oh, that reminds me: My food poops on your food.”


“DingleTingle, I think your mom wants you.”


“You said that they’d be out by 9:00. It’s 9:18. You need to get up early to look for a job tomorrow.”


“Okay, guys. Let’s call it. Next month’s meeting is "Exploiting Sensitivities About White Male Oppression." See you then.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Orthorexia Dilemma: Is Veganism an Eating Disorder?

When I was 13, I stopped eating. I was about to start at a very competitive high school that September and I wanted to be thin and popular. It started out as just a diet but as it quickly gathered speed it became something else, something that mushroomed as it progressed until I no longer controlled it. This thing, whatever it was, soon became a despot that ruled my life.

That summer, I was in a play so I was away from my home rehearsing most of the day. It was a breeze to not eat lunch there and be able to fly under the radar. At dinner, I developed a method for cutting up food and discreetly spitting it out into the napkins I’d stacked on my lap. Breakfast was a bagel that got fed to the dog under the table. (My waist shrank in inverse proportion to poor Buffy’s.) Originally, I would allow myself exactly 50 grapes a day, then 30, and I did hundreds of sit-ups a day, so many that I developed a painful rug burn line along my spine, which was beginning to protrude more and more. Once a week, I would walk to the neighborhood drugstore and steal the diet pills that managed to make my heart race even more than the shoplifting actually did. I wore loose clothes to make it harder to detect the weight loss and I kept my calorie counter nearby at all times, not that I was eating anyway. I just wanted to know what everyone else was eating so I could judge them. I would float in the bathtub and one night, I discovered that I was starting to grow downy hair on my stomach. My period stopped. I had read about this in a brochure I picked up somewhere: My body was in starvation mode. I was a success.

My mother threatened to have me hospitalized and I relished the thought of those doctors trying to force me to eat. I would be like Regan from The Exorcist and all those doctors in their white coats would run from the room in terror. Not long after that threat, though, my grandmother came to our house and she cried when she saw me, my hollow cheeks, the dark circles under my eyes. She just turned away from me and cried in the kitchen. My grandmother was my world and I’d never seen her cry before. I couldn’t bear the guilt so I started eating again that night. I weighed 74 pounds and was getting heart palpitations at the end.

This thing that had taken me over started out like any other diet but then found itself powered by a seemingly endless fuel source of social pressure swirled inside a cocktail of control, anxiety and self-hatred. This was a maelstrom inside me and it was already there before I started what my parents referred to thereafter as my “crazy diet”. My diet plus the extenuating circumstances in my life were what it took to light the sparks that already existed into a blazing inferno that burned out of my control. It took years after this original foray into anorexia to not occasionally fall back into that pattern again.

I am writing about this because there have been some bloggers, including one who has gotten a lot of news mileage but I am not going to add to it by linking here, who have publicly given up their veganism and linked it to worsening or developing an eating disorder. Specifically, they referenced something called orthorexia, which is an excessive preoccupation with avoiding what is perceived to be unhealthy foods, and they connected it to their veganism.

Here’s the thing: I think it’s a crock. Mostly. I’ll get to that “mostly” part in a moment.

If anyone is empathetic to those struggling with eating disorders in our society, I am. I know that particular hell personally because I have walked it. I also understand the pressures to be thin, to meet society’s expectations of what “hot” means, and I can plainly see what a profoundly disturbed food culture we live in today. Shuffling popular culture’s hateful messaging to and about women with incendiary attitudes about food that border on the obsessive, many of us have the perfect storm waiting to happen. Back when I had my own involvement with an eating disorder, we lived in a different world, one where we weren’t exposed as pervasively to messages about how we are supposed to look and one where there wasn’t nearly as much of an environment of paranoia about what we eat. Today, we are supposed to be concerned about alkaline versus acid, high carb versus high protein versus high raw, blending versus freaking juicing. We should be mindful to not drink water with our meals lest we mess up our digestion (and is that water reverse-osmosis and spoken kindly to or, sigh, just filtered?), not to mix fruits and vegetables, strive to eat mono-meals in a particular order throughout the day, and on and on. (And this isn’t even delving into the hornet’s nest that is GMOs.)

I understand the stress. We live in a pretty confusing, complicated world where we are exposed to countless other opinions about what we eat that are presented not only as fact but as the magic bullet to health, beauty, slimness, agelessness and more or the cause of the very opposite. One’s emotional response to this milieu is not the fault of veganism, though. Our response is what we bring to the table, literally. Our disordered thinking may well get exacerbated by the world around us but it develops within us and is not forced onto us from outside forces. This was true all those years ago when I was adding up the calories of each individual grape I ate and it remains true today, when we are bombarded with shrill scare tactics and baseless promises. Harsh as this may sound, our response to this disordered culture is ours to own and to take responsibility for fixing within ourselves. Blaming and pointing fingers is just that: Averting responsibility and going for an easy excuse. Just as I had to look within to find causes and solutions for my anorexia, so do others. It was not something that anyone or anything else did to me. The reality of disordered eating is that it is much more complex and much more personal than that. 

The blogger who built up a large fan base and went on to denounce veganism as triggering orthorexia within her said that now she is seeking “balance” rather than restriction. Those of us who have been vegan for a while understand that veganism really has very little to do with restriction: We no longer perceive animal flesh and products as food. Accusing vegans of stringency for excluding these things from our diet is like accusing someone who doesn’t eat cardboard and clay of restriction. We know that within the parameters of what we consider food, it is easy to find both balance and abundance. If you come to veganism with a framework of disordered thinking about food or it comes to the surface while vegan, that is what you have brought with you.

This is where that “mostly” part comes in, though, in reference to blaming veganism for disordered thinking about food. While I think a great deal of the high profile decamping is a crock and an attempt to widen a fan base, I can also see how current trends in how some people frame veganism can be like kindling to an obsessive personality. This trend within veganism to employ tactics that manipulate anxieties around fat, nuts, fruits, grains and who knows what else can aggravate someone who is already on overload and we, as a movement that is rooted in nonviolence, justice and kindness, should play no part in this. It is unprincipled and antithetical to our movement as well as an injustice to those, human and otherwise, who would benefit from an adoption of a vegan framework, which is, well, pretty much everyone. 

It is what we bring to veganism that determines our mentality about it, but we don’t help the cause by cultivating a culture of anxiety and phobic thinking around what should be a source of joy, abundance and empowerment. We should be a voice of balance, reason and equanimity in this very disturbed food environment that preys upon body image angst. Veganism isn’t a dietary fad and we shouldn’t resort to either trumped up promises or the pedaling of fear in our outreach because that is what we will convey to the public. To me, veganism is a pathway to living in alignment with my deepest core values and a way to actively cultivate the world I want to live in, not an instrument used to drumbeat more shaming, more anxiety and more misogyny into the world. If people feel healthier as vegans, fabulous! Please understand that I am not one who really cares how someone gets their foot in the door. I am not one who says that vegans are only allowed in the club if they are here for ethical reasons because, frankly, I don’t think the animals would give a damn why someone is not eating them and their babies. That is not what this is about: This is about being mindful of our messaging.

Does veganism cause eating disorders? Emphatically, no. Do we need to remove our participation in the disturbed, manipulative culture surrounding food and shame today? Just as emphatically, yes.