This week, I sweetened my vegan advocacy with some good home cooking. I made some oatmeal-raisin cookies (pumpkin variation here, though I used the standard version of the recipe without pumpkin) and had enough left over to share with volunteers at the 23rd Street Garden on Saturday. I love making baked goods from the Happy Herbivore cookbooks because they are so moist and flavorful without needing any exotic substitutes for eggs, butter, or margarine. Everyone who tried the cookies enjoyed them.
I had good conversations about veganism at the garden. One was about the ethics of using animals for clothing instead of synthetic alternatives that might not be environmentally friendly, for example petroleum-based products. I explained that I could not justify from an ethical perspective wearing the skin of an animal that I would not eat. I also said that clothing, like most non-food uses of animal products, was mostly a byproduct of the animal food industry, so if we focused on eliminating the use of animals for food, then more plant-based clothing and other products would be developed.
Another volunteer at the garden expressed concern over the environmental impact on our open spaces if we were to eliminate cows, saying that the killing off of most large herbivores such as bison has resulted in desertification. I pointed out that we are destroying rainforests specifically to provide food and grazing land for cattle. I also said that if we did want to reintroduce large herbivores, why would it be necessary to also kill them and take their flesh and milk? He agreed that that shouldn't be necessary.
This volunteer also posited that we could have a meaningful relationship with animals that we used for food, such as backyard chickens, as when you live with an animal you can learn to communicate with them. I said that we couldn't read an animal's mind. He said that was a very limiting point of view. I said that if someone tells me that their chickens "told" them that they didn't mind giving away their eggs, why should I believe them? I explained that as long as animals are considered property, the human-animal relationship is inherently inequal; the interests of the humans always win. He agreed that the property status of animals is problematic.
Then today at the Free Farm Stand, I brought a spread I'd made using some of the kale we harvested on Friday at Alemany Farm. I got the the recipe from My Beef With Meat, the sequel to The Engine 2 Diet book. Along with the Happy Herbivore series, these are my favorite cookbooks; all vegan, oil-free, and delicious. This spread, Kale Butter, has only three ingredients: Kale, sweet potato, and walnuts.
Everyone who tried the spread (either on bread or celery) really enjoyed it, and many asked for the recipe, which I gladly handed out (with links to the source site). I told everyone it was vegan, and offered a look through (and links to) the other vegan recipes I'd brought, and also offered the information in the TAVS pamphlet. Not as many were interested in talking about veganism as last week, but I did have a few discussions.
One guest was an ex-vegan, who agreed with me that it was impossible to produce animal products without harming animals. I asked her why she gave up being vegan; I don't remember her specific answer, but it wasn't health-related. Regardless, she seemed clearly interested in trying again. She said her son had asked her to watch a video that he said would make her never eat chicken again. I told her that egg-laying chickens suffered the same fate. I explained about the male chicks killed shortly after birth, and about the dairy cows being forcibly impregnated year after year. She agreed that it was all horrible, and took a pamphlet. I sincerely thanked her for considering a return to a vegan diet.
Another guest asked me if I knew any vegan bodybuilders. I pointed to the Kale Butter recipe and said that the author of the book it came from, Rip Esselstyn, was a vegan triathlete and in fantastic shape, and very muscular (I'd met him personally just last year). The guest said that he'd been a "pescatarian" but had felt weak; I said he likely wasn't eating enough calories. He agreed, and took a pamphlet.
Toward the end of the day, one of our volunteers mentioned that she would like to go vegan, but didn't have access to a full kitchen. I told her she was in the best place in the world to get vegan food if she needed to eat out. But I wanted to give her less expensive options, so when I got home I got her e-mail address from the volunteer coordinator and sent her a link to a blog entry with tips geared toward students in dorm rooms, without access to a full kitchen. I hope she finds it helpful.
I'm feeling much more positive now than I did earlier this weekend, when I was reading The World Peace Diet and becoming increasingly angry at the mess we've made of this world. I really do think there's hope that people can be convinced that eating animal products causes so much harm that it simply cannot be justified. It's a long road ahead, but I'm committed to the cause.