Juliet Eilperin recently reported for The Washington Post that
former vice president Al Gore has gone vegan, just like the president with whom he once served….
It is unclear why Gore, one of the nation’s most visible climate activists, has given up dairy, poultry and meat products. People usually become vegan for environmental, health or ethical reasons, or a combination of these three factors.
As Ben Adler writes for Grist,
Forbes merely tossed in a throwaway line referring to Gore as “newly vegan,” in a story about investors looking at ways of replacing eggs with plant-based formulas. The Post was unable to get any further details beyond confirmation from an unnamed Gore associate.
Perhaps, as the Post’s Juliet Eilperin suggests, Gore was worried about his health….
But it seems likely that concerns about the environment, especially his top cause of climate change, played a role in Gore’s thinking. Industrial animal agriculture is bad for local water quality, as it spreads around manure and antibiotics. But it is also bad for greenhouse gas emissions. Animals, especially pigs and even more so cows, produce methane as a byproduct of digestion….
Raising livestock contributes to climate change and environmental degradation in other ways as well: it takes far more grain and land to produce a calorie of food for humans by feeding grains to animals than directly to people. That means more destruction of grasslands and forests for farming, more tractors burning fuel, and more pesticides seeping into the groundwater. Back in 2006, a United Nations report found that livestock accounts for 18 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
And now, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that we have been vastly underestimating livestock’s contribution to the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions.
For more check out the links above.
After two posts about the amazing beer (and wine) we had on our trip to the West Coast, I’ve finally gotten around to the post I promised about some of our culinary adventures. Here are a few of the highlights, in chronological order:
Montana Ale Works, Bozeman, MT:
As I said previously, we loved the array of craft beers on tap at Montana Ale Works. The food was also tasty, with quite a few grass-fed meat options on the menu, along with veggie alternatives (e.g., tofu, portabello, or grain-based veggie burgers). I hadn’t had a patty melt in a decade or two, so I pounced on the opportunity to have their bison patty melt and was glad that I did. It was a decadent, messy affair made even sloppier when I requested an extra ramekin of Thousand Island dressing.
Just about anywhere in the Willamette Valley, OR:
Blackberries are practically a weed here, so most locals look at you a little oddly if you excitedly offer them fresh-picked berries as though they were something special. But for an out-of-towner like me who’s smitten with them, there’s nothing quite like blackberries picked with your own two hands at the peak of ripeness. During our visit, I enjoyed them on their own, atop cereal, and in a homemade cobbler. Three or four days in a row, I also feasted upon my favorite new PBJ alternative: peanut butter and fresh-picked blackberry sandwiches, in this case made on a lovely organic spelt bread from Dave’s Killer Bread.
Red Hills Market, Dundee, OR:
Before an afternoon of winery-hopping, we stopped by Red Hills Market for lunch in the heart of Oregon’s Pinot Noir country. J and I split two items. The olive tapenade sandwich with chevre, fennel and arugula on a baguette was nice, but the real star was the pizza special, which might be the best dang pizza that I have ever had in my entire life. As you can see in the photo below, their wood-fired pizza crust was topped with merguez—a North African-style sausage, made here with lamb from a local farm—padron peppers, house-made peach chutney, and arugula. The friendly, helpful fellow behind the counter highly recommended the pizza when I inquired about it, and I can’t tell you how glad I am we took him up on the suggestion. I would seriously contemplate driving another 5000+ miles for another bite of this pizza! We also picked up some nice thank-you gifts here for our friend who was our catsitter during the big road trip, including some fantastic Jacobsen sea salt.
Morning Glory Cafe, Eugene, OR:
J and I drove through both Corvalis and Eugene on our way to California, homes to Oregon State and the University of Oregon respectively. We lunched in Eugene at Morning Glory Cafe, a cool vegetarian/vegan diner (breakfast served all day) that made us feel like we were back home in Madison’s Willy Street or Atwood neighborhood. Vegan breakfast fare tends to be only partially filling for J, so he ordered two dishes: vegan biscuits and gravy with “soysage” patties, and cornmeal waffles with fresh blueberries and maple syrup. Both were very tasty, though I favored the latter. My breakfast was a concept so ingenious that I’m shocked I haven’t seen it elsewhere: a shell of crispy hashbrown-style potatoes filled as though it were the eggs of an omelet. It comes in several versions; I opted for Little Bear’s Vegan Omelette: “Broccoli, zucchini, carrots, and onions sautéed with special spices, folded into a shredded potato shell and topped with our own herbed tofu sour cream, green onions, and diced tomatoes. Served with your choice of homemade bread.” Bread is served with the topping of your choice (organic butter, olive oil or Earth Balance vegan soy margarine), and jam is available on the table as well. The space was funky and low key, the service was friendly, and the hibiscus iced tea was flavorful and refreshing.
Underdog, Inner Sunset neighborhood, San Francisco, CA:
Thanks to Yelp, we discovered Underdog when we were looking for a bite to eat after a morning at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. As a summer feature in USA Today describes, “This spot serves sausages made from ethically treated animals raised on natural feeds that are not genetically modified. ‘They’re locavore dogs: humanely raised, pasture fed,” [Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America co-author Bruce] Kraig says. This is the wave of the future. They are very good.’ Underdog serves a variety of vegan dogs, too.” Lonely Planet concurs: “For cheap, organic meals on the run in a bun, Underdog is the clear winner. The roasted garlic and Italian pork sausages are USDA certified-organic, and the smoky veggie chipotle hot dog could make dedicated carnivores into fans of fake meat.”
J tried a couple different meat versions, including a chili dog, while I had a vegan Polish dog topped with a generous serving of homemade kraut from the toppings bar. I also enjoyed a side of their organic Po-tater-Tots. Extrovert J outed me as a food blogger to the proprietor when he ordered his second dog; seeing an opportunity for good press, she brought out complimentary orders of a couple sides including their vegan coleslaw (simple and delicious). She needn’t have bothered, though, as I didn’t need any buttering up to appreciate what they were up to and want to spread the word!
This past winter, I got into dark beers like stouts and porters. Among the beers that I came across were so-called milk stouts. It seems odd to think of dairy in beer, even here in Wisconsin where each is enormously popular in its own right, but the name doesn’t lie. Milk or cream stouts are made with lactose, a sugar derived from milk. As Alisa Fleming explains, “Since the lactose is unfermentable, it adds sweetness, body, and calories to the finished beer, contrasting the roasted flavor.”
Look hard enough, and lucky vegans just might be able to find a milk stout they can enjoy. For example, Golden Road Brewing of Los Angeles makes an Almond Milk Stout as a limited release, which they describe as “a sweet stout with rich malts and almond milk in lieu of lactose, providing our Vegan friends with a tasty alternative to standard milk stouts.” Homebrewers also have tips on alternatives to recreate some of the characteristics of a milk stout without lactose.
Lactose as a beer additive isn’t nearly as strange as my recent discovery about Guinness, the world-famous stout. Rachel Tepper describes how a fish byproduct is used as a sort of processing agent in making the beer:
[S]ome vegetarian and vegan revelers might want to reconsider that thick, creamy Irish stout — it could contain trace amounts of fish bladders.
Smithsonian.com’s Food&Think blog published … an in-depth explanation of isinglass, a form of collagen culled from a dried swim bladder, an internal fish organ that helps regulate buoyancy in water. It’s used in a process called fining — when unwanted leftovers, like solid particles and degenerated yeast cells, are removed from the brewing process. These elements settle on their own to the bottom of a cask in a jelly-like clump, but isinglass quickens the process and makes them easier to remove.
The use of isinglass as a fining agent isn’t exactly new, and it’s not exactly news. While many beers and wines use gelatin instead of isinglass these days (those beverages aren’t vegan, either), Guinness still uses it in much the same way it has since the mid- to late-19th century. And publications and blogs have been taking note of it for some time now.
Still, it remains largely unknown to the greater public, likely because Guinness doesn’t publicize it.
For the full story and lots of links, head here. For more on vegan (and non-vegan) beers, check out this post from the blog of the “No Meat Athlete” (runs on plants!) and this one from the “I Think About Beer” blog.
Change is hard. Trust me, I know. A friend once framed for me a description of my Chinese horoscope sign because it was pretty darn accurate: “The Dog … Honest, trusted, loyal … Plays with no other purpose than to enjoy the moment. But there is a tendency to worry if routine order is disrupted.” So, change is worrisome to me. I feel better planning ahead than winging it, and I like predictability.
Dog that I am, more than a year passed from the time that I bought The Omnivore’s Dilemma shortly after its publication in 2006 to the time that I actually read it. It sat on our coffee table collecting dust all those months, staring at me every day. Why did it take me so long to read it, even after my interest was strong enough to not only buy it in hardback but also leave it sitting out rather than shelving it? Because based on interviews that I had heard with author Michael Pollan (like this one, on Fresh Air), I knew in my gut that reading the book would make me want to change my eating habits, and I was reluctant to change. But one day I finally “sucked it up” and read it, and so started my journey as a conscientious omnivore.
During her final season, Oprah aired an episode that prominently featured veganism. She and the whole Harpo staff went vegan for a week, and the show included guests like Pollan and Kathy Freston (“The Veganist”) as well as a report by Lisa Ling from a slaughterhouse. One of the ideas discussed on this episode is that you can “lean into” change. In other words, instead of deciding to revamp some aspect of your life (like eating habits) all at once, you can make small changes to try things out. Folks who think to themselves, “Huh, I probably eat more meat than I need to” don’t need to go cold turkey (so to speak), going to bed a carnivore and waking up vegetarian. The same applies to any other dietary change you might make, whether it’s deciding to increase your daily fruit and veggie intake, eat fewer prepackaged and processed foods, reduce sodium in your diet, or eat more local produce. All-at-once isn’t necessarily the right way or the best way. Take it from a dog, small changes can be less intimidating, less disruptive, and therefore easier to stick with.
Have you been thinking about changing any of your eating habits? Which ones? What’s holding you back from making a change you’ve been considering?
The Conscientious Omnivore is away this week. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared on November 8, 2011.
Last summer I posted about how the rising popularity of quinoa, the South American protein-rich grain, was making it hard for farmers in Peru and Bolivia to afford the traditional foodstuff. More recently, I posted about how quinoa farms are coming to the United States. These issues and more got some attention in the last couple weeks in The Guardian.
It kicked off with a piece from Joanna Blythman with the provocative headline, “Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?” She writes,
The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture. In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there….
[I]n the case of quinoa, there’s a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant’s staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon “foodprint”. Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.
Given the tone of the piece, it’s no surprise that vegans and conscientious omnivores responded forcefully. Mimi Bekhechi, Associate Director of PETA UK, had her say last week. Her post opens this way:
It is ironic that in the wake of the Tesco horse burger scandal, writer Joanna Blythman would attempt to scare us off healthy crops such as quinoa and portray meat eaters as eco heroes. Our burgers and bangers hold their share of dark secrets – and they don’t just lie in the origin of the animals whose flesh is ground up and extruded into patties and links, although those secrets are plenty dark enough. They also lie in the tremendous waste and environmental havoc wreaked by the meat industry.
Bolivian villagers aren’t the only ones faced with the prospect of going hungry. It is estimated that more than 850 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat. But the solution to this crisis does not lie in abstaining from quinoa (whose meteoric rise in popularity cannot be attributed solely to vegans, many of whom have never touched the stuff) and other healthy vegan foods. According to Worldwatch, it is animal agriculture that is the real villain because meat consumption is an inefficient use of grain – the grain is used more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. Growth in meat output requires feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world’s poor.
A few days later, Tom Philpott of Mother Jones weighed in. I’m a big Philpott fan, and he doesn’t disappoint here. If you only read one of the three pieces, I suggest his, which tackles the quinoa question with care and recognizes the complexity in all our modern eating choices. As he puts it,
So can people like me, who prefer to avoid foods that are environmentally and socially destructive, eat it with a clear conscience? Not entirely. In a short period of time, quinoa has gone from a local staple to a global commodity. “When you transform a food into a commodity, there’s inevitable breakdown in social relations and high environmental cost,” as Tanya Kerssen, an analyst for Oakland-based Food First told Time last year.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop eating quinoa; it just means we shouldn’t eat quinoa without thinking it through.
Head here for his full piece.
We’re 2+ weeks into the new year. How are those resolutions holding up? If you decided (or someday may decide) to cut back on meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal products after being a full-on carnivore, you may find yourself struggling a bit if you dive in all at once. Tara Parker-Pope, the wellness columnist at The New York Times, has some tips on how to make the transition a bit easier. Since it echoes my own thoughts on leaning into change, my favorite suggestion comes from the end of the piece:
[D]on’t try to replicate your favorite meaty foods right away. If you love a juicy hamburger, meatloaf or ham sandwich, you are not going to find a meat-free version that tastes the same. [Susan] Voisin [of FatFree Vegan Kitchen] advises new vegans to start slow and eat a few vegan meals a week. Stock your pantry with lots of grains, lentils and beans and pile your plate with vegetables. To veganize a recipe, start with a dish that is mostly vegan already — like spaghetti — and use vegetables or a meat substitute for the sauce.
“Trying to recapture something and find an exact substitute is really hard,” she said. “A lot of people will try a vegetarian meatloaf right after they become vegetarian, and they hate it. But after you get away from eating meat for a while, you’ll find you start to develop other tastes, and the flavor of a lentil loaf with seasonings will taste great to you. It won’t taste like meat loaf, but you’ll appreciate it for itself.”
For other sage advice, head here for the full article.
“Resolve to eat local in 2013!!”
That’s the message Bloom Bake Shop posted on their Facebook page yesterday to kick off the new year. If you’re a resolution kind of person, eating more locally and seasonally would make for an awfully nice goal for the year! (Before you start resolving, though, consider leaning into change to increase your chance of success.)
I’ve posted about Bloom before, but they’re such a strong supporter of local and organic growers, producers, and purveyors that they deserve another featured shout out. As Susan Gloss describes in her cover article from the current issue of Edible Madison, Bloom
uses organic ingredients, and [owner Annemarie Spitznagle] sources the majority of those ingredients locally. Flour comes from Lonesome Stone Milling in Lone Rock. Eggs are from Pecatonica Valley Farm, and all dairy products come from Organic Valley, based in La Farge. By sourcing her ingredients locally and organically whenever possible, Annemarie hopes she can inspire other businesses to do the same.
“Organic and expensive don’t have to be synonymous,” she says.
Bloom’s commitment to local food extends beyond its doors and into the community. Extra products at the end of the day are donated to local charities, such as the Goodman Center and Gilda’s Club. The bakery also serves as a pick up location for two community supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable farms, as well as a honey CSA called Mad Urban Bees. A point of pride for Annemarie is that she helped Yumbutter, a local handmade peanut butter company, get off the ground by providing work space and incorporating its products into her menu.
Check out Gloss’s full piece (online or in print) along with my earlier post, and then stop by Bloom’s lovely shop in Middleton for some delicious baked goods. The offerings include plenty of vegan and/or gluten-free treats, plus some savory items, and you can order special-event cakes as well.
After many visits, my go-to staple has become the amazing salted caramel brownie whenever it’s available; my favorite seasonal special so far has been a vanilla-and-beet (!) cupcake that I had this fall. Don’t rely on my opinion, though; go check out the case and find your own favorites!
Although most of the posts in the Conscientious Burger series will focus on my adopted hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, occasionally I’ll feature burgers that I encounter while on the road. In part, this is to encourage you, dear reader, to keep your eyes open for conscientious burgers in your hometown and during your own travel adventures.
J and I recently traveled to the southwest to be in a wedding (congrats once again, V & E!), and our trip took us through SLC, as the airport of Salt Lake City, Utah is known. We woke long before dawn and arrived in Salt Lake very ready for lunch after our second of three flights. Our arrival gate in Concourse C happened be directly across from Squatters Airport Pub, and after perusing the menu, we decided to give it a try.
Like Sarah at the Vegansaurus blog, we were very pleasantly surprised by how many veggie and vegan options were not only available but also clearly marked on the menu [see PDF here]. Offerings included a hummus-and-veggie wrap, a tabbouleh salad made with organic quinoa, and a tofu scrambler from the “breakfast anytime” menu. J was feeling carnivorous and went with the Niman Ranch pastrami Reuben, while I tried the veggie burger. Here’s the 411:
- Menu description: “CHEF’S VEGGIE BURGER: Roasted veggies, garbanzo beans, rice and oats, grilled and topped with hummus.” Also, all burgers are “served on Squatters-ale–infused spent-grain bun (substitute a gluten-free Udi’s bun upon request).” Recommended beer: Chasing Tail Golden Ale
- Included sides: Served with Kettle Chips® or carrot and celery sticks, or substitute chips & salsa or a side salad for $1.50. Also served with classic burger sides of leaf lettuce (shredded, in this case), tomato slices, and some sliced red onion.
- Price: $9.99
- Website: For more about Squatters Pubs & Beers, including hours and menus, head here
Along with my upgrade to a lovely side salad (with their very tasty cilantro-lime vinaigrette, which was served on the side), this burger made for one darn good airport meal. Given the description above, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that it was very much falafel in burger form, minus the tzaziki. It’s such a good idea for a veggie burger that I’m surprised I haven’t encountered it elsewhere. Hummus on falafel may seem like overkill at first — are two versions of chickpeas really necessary on one sandwich? But, as with the falafel wrap at The Great Dane in Madison, it ends up being an appealing combination. The tangy, galicky zip of creamy hummus nicely contrasts with the crunchy, hearty falafel (or, in this case, falafel-like patty). Although it might have been my imagination, I swear that I could detect sweet brew-house notes in the bun from the spent grain. While it didn’t top the absolutely amazing Shelly’s Vegan Wrap from Elephants Deli at PDX, this really was a surprisingly good airport meal.
The only disappointment was my Black and Tan, which was a very literal rendering of the menu description. It turned out to indeed be a “blend of Organic Amber and Captain Bastard’s” Oatmeal Stout — the bartender simply filled the glass with ale and then topped off the imperial pint with stout, with zero effort to keep the two in separate layers as is customary. In fact, it was almost like he intentionally mixed them as he poured the pint, yielding more of a uniform “muddy brown” than a black and tan.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself in need of a meal in SLC, I very much recommend giving Squatters a try.
Planning a vegan Thanksgiving this year, or trying to accommodate vegan guests at your omnivorous gathering? Gena Hamshaw has tips and a stuffing recipe that looks incredible at Food52.
Hamshaw’s not a big fan of the ubiquitous Tofurky, and I can say that we weren’t either when we gave it a try: head here for my full review of our (vegetarian but not vegan) experience with the Tofurky Feast.
This past Saturday I stopped by the second Mad City Vegan Fest, held this year at the Goodman Community Center. In the exhibitor area, I sampled Coconut Bliss frozen dessert and Mary’s Gone Crackers pretzel sticks and caraway crackers, and I got a warm greeting from Annemarie of Bloom Bake Shop who was running the kids’ corner. Outside, I was delighted to have another chance to eat lunch from the wonderfully delicious food cart, IGO VEGO; my meal consisted of an amazing sweet-potato-based burger plus a cucumber, tomato, and kale salad. Since the last time I ate there, I’d forgotten just how fantastic the veggie burgers are from Tammy and her crew. If you live in the Madison area, please stop by for lunch, and tell them I said hello!
The one talk on the schedule that I caught was the one that I was most interested to hear. Having previously read a piece or two online from James McWilliams, I suspected that I wasn’t necessarily going to agree with him but hoped it would be thought provoking. Indeed, it was. McWilliams described his presentation afterward on his blog: “My talk stressed the fact that ethical veganism cannot and should not seek any sort of common ground with the sustainable food movement. The more I examine the rhetorical tactics and promotional schemes of the SFM the more I’m convinced that it poses the most dire challenge to the long term prospects of permanent veganism. So I came down as hard on it today as I ever have. Felt damn good.” As he said during his talk, he believes the argument with the sustainable food movement is “a tug of war and vegans are losing it, and that’s a tragedy.”
During his presentation, McWilliams joked that he was a pessimist and his talk was a downer, contrasting himself with a more positive, optimistic speaker on the afternoon program. That description of himself didn’t seem quite right to me, though. Instead, McWilliams came across as the sort of person who thinks—scratch that, knows—that they are right and that anyone who thinks differently is not only wrong but also either naively duped or cruel, cynical, exploitative, and in either case (obviously) dumber than him. Further, I get the sense that he takes anyone’s disagreement with him as evidence of his rightness and fuel for his righteousness. His blog post about his MCVF talk seems to confirm my read; this is not someone looking to convert the unconverted by meeting them where they’re at and seeking ways to motivate “leaning into change”:
Shouldn’t we be humble, open to the possibility that we’re wrong, willing to see the other side of the issue, and ready to admit the faults in our own perspective? I think these are excellent qualities to have in most areas of life, but not on this one. Not this time.
There’s no discussion on the legitimization of unnecessary and intentional animal suffering. It’s wrong. There’s no discussion on the topic of legitimate speciesism. It’s wrong. There’s no discussion on the legitimacy of questioning sentience as the basis of animal rights. There’s no question. There are few things in life so morally clear, so simple, and so worthy of our most impassioned activism. Revolt.
Setting aside his pugnaciousness, I found myself scratching my head during his talk at absurd statements like “the sustainable food movement doesn’t question industrial agricultural.” Um, what? Who in the sustainable food movement have you been talking to? In the end, my notes from his presentation summarized my problems this way: “specious reasoning, faulty logic, suspect conclusions.” Nevertheless, I also noted that he had some interesting points about, for example, the amount of water that animal farming takes, and the role of industrial soy and corn in supplementing the diets of pasture-raised chickens.
For more, head to McWilliams’ blog for lots of posts and links to articles that outline his thinking about the modern food system and the failure of various pieces of the sustainable food movement (from locavores to conscientious omnivores to backyard chicken enthusiasts).
… the question of morality and meat is a vital one, but McWilliams’ bloodless exposition manages to add nothing new or interesting to it. He acknowledges that factory farming “produces 99 percent of the meat we eat,” but never explains why he spends so much energy (and space in high-end media fora) haranguing the other 1 percent [who humanely pasture-raise animals for meat].
I can think of two genuinely eloquent and effective moral critics of meat eating who train their rhetorical gifts squarely on the industry itself: Nobel Prize–winning novelist J.M. Coetzee and novelist-turned-nonfiction-writer Jonathan Safran Foer. Could McWilliams be following a careerist strategy, a calculation that with giants like Coetzee and Foer stalking industrial meat, all that’s left for a vegan of his stature to do is to go after the little guys?
Whatever his reasoning, this moralistic vegan must live with the fact that the net effect of his public-intellectual work has been to serve the interests of an industry that treats live animals as industrial inputs, ruthlessly exploiting them while trashing land, water, and public health in the process. McWilliams’ career may be benefiting from this strategy, but his stature as a defender of animal welfare is nil.