The V Word

You know.  It ends with “egan.”

For the better part of the last five and a half years, I have eschewed food and beverages made from animal flesh or secretions. In addition, over the past year I have almost entirely eliminated products containing animal-derived ingredients (as well as harmful chemicals such as parabens and phthalates) from my collection of cosmetics, personal hygiene products, and cleaning supplies. I’m now turning my attention to the materials from which my clothing and accessories are made, with the goal of gradually eliminating and replacing items in my wardrobe with cruelty-free alternatives.

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My choice to do these things is rooted in many deeply personal reasons, some of which include my personal health, the health of our planet, and our global society’s treatment of our fellow creatures and human beings.  I am happy and healthy, and entirely comfortable and satisfied with my choices.  However, I rarely talk about them (outside of the blog, of course), even with family or people I consider close friends.

And I hardly EVER use the V word.

Why not?  There are several reasons, but the main one is that I don’t really think people typically know what it means.  Even those who self-identify as “vegan” sometimes don’t know what it really means.  And in general, I don’t like using labels.

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I read an interesting post on Happy Herbivore a week or two ago about the difference between the terms “vegan” and “plant-based.”  Read it here.  The distinction between the terms is not really something I had ever thought about, but it does make sense.  In the context of the HH article, I suppose “vegan” is the better term to describe me, as I do apply my ethics in other realms of my life outside of diet, and I do enjoy Oreos and other foods that are “vegan” but not really “plant-based.”  This fun bit of self-reflection, however, doesn’t do much to make me more comfortable with using the word.

Being married to an omnivore, I go out to eat at a lot of non-vegan establishments.  We try to choose places that have good options for both of us.  I’ve become a master of studying menus ahead of time to assess whether there are things I can eat or at least customize with relative ease.

Nevertheless, when ordering at a restaurant, I prefer to use a benign query about a particular entree (e.g., “Does the sauce contain dairy?”) than to ask, “Is this dish vegan?” or, “What vegan options do you have?”  I certainly never lead off with, “I’m vegan.  Can you bring me something with no dairy/cheese/butter?”  I know there are many vegans who would disagree with my prevarication, and while I recognize that dining-out situations represent something of a teachable moment, I’d rather just do what I need to do to assure myself that my meal comports with my ethics/diet and avoid getting into a discussion with a server who either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care.

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All that being said, my general discomfort with the V word is greatly alleviated when someone I’m ordering from brings it up on their own.  As lame as it sounds, it’s a huge relief and something of a joy to me when this happens!

Last week, I was in Boloco, one of my favorite Boston-area establishments due to its varied menu, plethora of vegan options, and for actually knowing how to cook and season tofu.  I noticed that they had a couple of new menu items, one of them being the Jaffa Falafel burrito (falafel, roasted jalapeno hummus, romaine, cucumber, tomato, cilantro, green garbanzo beans, and lemon tahini sauce).  Knowing that some people don’t know the difference between tahini and tzatziki, however, I double-checked at the counter, “Does the tahini sauce contain dairy?”  “No,” replied the employee, “the Falafel is entirely vegan.”

Say what?!? I loved that she knew that.  I loved that she came right out and said it.

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The falafel wasn’t bad either!

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Green chickpeas.  How I love them.

Bottom line: this small thing made me smile and inspired me to write this post.  While I realize that the majority of restaurants aren’t going to become 100% (or, let’s be honest, even 5%) cruelty-free anytime soon, I really do appreciate when places take the time to train their employees to understand and accommodate customers with diets that are restricted by ethics, religion, or allergies.  Boloco is great about this.  Frankly, I wish more places were.

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Salad and Smoothie Spree

Today I am going to do a big old vegan food blog cliche by writing a post featuring salads and smoothies.  I embrace it.   I can’t help myself; I’ve been having so much fun with spring and summer produce!

I have the incredible fortune of living within 10 miles of 9 farmers’ markets and 36 farmstands (5 of them organic).  The bounty of gorgeous, fresh fruits and vegetables coincides perfectly with my body’s craving for lighter, more refreshing meals.  The result has been a total spree of salads and smoothies, with no room for boredom!

For example, two weeks ago, I bought the biggest head of lettuce I have ever seen in my life.  It cost $2.50 and lasted me up until this morning. And it was organic!

Salad Smoothie 005On day one, I chopped several of the leaves and tossed in some apple, carrot, and toasted pecans.

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I made a lemon-shallot vinaigrette to go with it.

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It kinda looks like a raw egg yolk, but it tasted amazing!  This was: 1/2 finely chopped medium shallot, juice of half a lemon, 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. dijon mustard, 6 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, scant 1/2 tsp. agave nectar, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Last weekend, I bought a beautiful bunch of beets (how’s that for alliteration). On Sunday I roasted the bulbs, and used the roasted beets all week in salads.

Salad Smoothie 019Chopped farmstand lettuce, baby arugula, sectioned grapefruit, avocado, and roasted beets.  And yes, the beets stain everything pink!

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Chopped farmstand lettuce, baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, roasted beets, apple, carrot, radish, and avocado.  Also, the radish was the cutest thing ever:

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A very simple salad of organic baby arugula with organic raspberries and pine nuts, and a dressing of garlic-infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I love that salad-making lets me incorporate whatever fruits and vegetables I happen to have on hand.  This has helped tremendously with my goal of avoiding wasting food.

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Today’s lunch: the end of the farmstand lettuce, organic baby arugula, cherry tomatoes, avocado, organic farmstand sugar snap peas, carrot, craisins, and hemp seeds.

Salads are obviously extremely portable, making them a great weekday bring-to-work lunch.  I love that I can do most of the prep ahead of time, either on the weekend or the night before.  It seriously saves me so much time and money.

The same is true of smoothies.  They are the perfect vehicle for incorporating a rainbow of ingredients and ensuring that I make use of the insane amount of produce I buy each week this time of year.

Like native strawberries galore:
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In the past I have not been a fan of smoothies for breakfast because, although they taste great, I find that they don’t keep me full for more than an hour or two.  Since at my current job I don’t go to lunch until 1:00, I need something longer-lasting than that.

During my 3-Day Detox in May, I learned that using “chia gel” (1 tbsp. chia seeds soaked overnight in 1 cup of water) as a smoothie base is a way to stretch a smoothie’s ability to count as an actual meal, likely thanks to the absurd amount of fiber contained in a small portion of seeds.

So now I’ve been having smoothies for breakfast between 3 and 5 mornings a week.  Each one is different from the next!

This smoothie contained 1 cup of chia gel, one fresh kiwi, one frozen banana, 4-5 fresh strawberries, and a big handful of spinach:
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I love this picture of it blending all together, with the little whirlpool in the middle!

Another day, I tried a yogurt-based smoothie, using So Delicious plain coconut milk yogurt.
Salad Smoothie 009It contained 1 cup of chia gel, one frozen banana, 1-1.5 cups fresh pineapple, 3 fresh strawberries, a big handful of chopped romaine lettuce, 1/2 a stalk of celery, and about 1/2 cup of coconut yogurt.Salad Smoothie 010The color was kind of ugly but this may have been the best-tasting smoothie I’ve made yet!  The yogurt definitely enhances the flavor and texture.

I have a lot more great seasonal dishes to share in an upcoming post, using farmstand treasures and more!