Monday, April 29, 2013

The Berkeley Vegan Earth Day -- A Review

Last Saturday, April 20, I volunteered with the third annual Berkeley Vegan Earth Day, where there were speakers, vendors, and a showing of the film Peaceable Kingdom.  Even though most of what I did was before the event, writing blog entries about the awesome vendors that were showcasing their vegan wares, I was still busy enough during it that I didn't get to see as much as I would have liked to have seen.  However, I did get to see Will Tuttle, because I'd bought my little sister a ticket and I wanted to make sure she really saw at least one speaker.

Will Tuttle, as many readers may know, is the author of The World Peace Diet, which, although I've never read it, I first heard of because Robin Quivers, the former Howard Stern co-host, cited it as her inspiration for becoming a vegan.  Then I heard him on Our Hen House and his name would come up in other ways, because you know how that goes -- once you've heard of something, it seems to pop up all over the place.

His speech was just as good as I could have hoped, and no doubt something that it was important for my sister to hear.  I want everyone to go vegan, I'm not shy about saying so, and nothing would make me happier than if my family would be among the forefront.  I have no doubt that this movement is growing, and that veganism and all its associated concerns are the key to, as Will Tuttle puts it, world peace.  I'm convinced that getting people to shift their thinking into a place where they understand that it is not acceptable to use any other being for our own purposes as though they belonged to us is the vital ingredient to all social justice movement.  This is not to mention that it would almost solve our global warming and other environmental problems, and it would no doubt solve our health care issues.

I was really glad that Will Tuttle's speech gave fair space to the issue of overfishing.  Although many vegans are beginning to talk more about the empty ocean, I get the feeling often that even vegans do not quite understand the severity of this crisis.  I'm glad that vegans are talking more about the fact that fish feel pain, and that is also important.  But just as many vegans will not use palm oil for sustainability reasons (I'm doing my very best to be one of those vegans, checking my soap, not getting Earth Balance, everything), I want fellow vegans to be a major part of spreading the word about fish and not only encouraging others to not eat them any longer, but getting it to be common knowledge that we need more marine protected areas, and we need them now.

The vendors were rad.  I wrote a blog post about Gnosis Chocolate (although, weirdly, they didn't actually show up, which is sad because I think they sound AMAZING and I want to support them!), Simplecare Products (Stephanie, the woman behind these products, secretly slipped me a free sample of the Daily Conditioning Oil at the event and, truly, it is so great and you should get some), Ellovi (you need, like, a tiny dab of Butter to moisturize e'rything), and The Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (activists like them are vital!).  I also wrote this blog post about what can be expected at The Berkeley Vegan Earth Day.  If you want to read all that stuff I wrote, wow, thanks, you folks are the best.  There were so many other amazing vendors too.  Beyond Eggs was there, and WTF, their mayo tastes like mayo.  They had some chocolate chip cookies that I ate 1/4 of because I knew they'd go fast and they were the best ones I've tasted in, well, ever. 

I mean, what's really fun about these types of events is being out and open and celebratory about being vegan.  I'm not sure it does a lot in the way of converting people, but nevertheless, it's definitely fun to go to.  There was some of the best food there, I wanted to eat it all, but, actually, the volunteers were fed for free by Nature's Express and it was such good food that was free and I didn't get the chance to spend any money because, damn, free seitan wraps and some of the richest chocolate mousse I ever did eat.

Also, we got some free samples.  What?  Samples?  I KNOW.  SAMPLES ARE GREAT.  Everyone who attended got a bag of bean chips of some sort and also a large delicious unhealthy cookie.  I heard some sadness expressed about the calories but, know what?  Everyone ate them anyway because they were so freaking good.  I hear they're even better heated up, but I don't even want to think about that.  I wish I could remember the names of the companies who provided these, but it was a tad overwhelming, all the goodies.  The best goodie had to be the Sister Rivers Foods Parma.  We volunteers got to take a whole full-sized sample of this vegan parmesan. 

Because I had the Parma, I rushed to make this easy lasagna from Fat Free Vegan that I'd pinned on Pinterest!  When I was younger, I ate Kraft-brand parm cheese piled on top of any type of marinara sauce.  In fact, it was unimaginable without it to me.  When I began to eat vegan, at first, I bought some dairy-free parm (which I later realized is not actually vegan), but then I just stopped doing marinara recipes.  Eventually, though, I simply got over it.  Turns out, parm is really not necessary.  Still, it was super fun and tasty to put this delicious (better than cheese, in my opinion) vegan parm on the lasagna, which, according to my sister, was impressive in how much it tasted like "normal" lasagna.
I didn't cut this into a nice square because I'm freewheelin'
All in all, the Berkeley Vegan Earth Day was a good time, though next year, I think I may volunteer in a slightly different way so that I can take a greater part in hearing the speakers!  Boy oh boy would I have loved to have been able to hear Gene Baur (the founder of Farm Sanctuary) and see Peaceable Kingdom.  But it's OK, it was totally worth it just to have made acquaintance with fellow vegans who cared enough to volunteer.  In fact, one young woman had also moved from Pittsburgh and we knew some people in common, and one young man and I knew people in common from Phoenixville!  I mean WHOA, the world is small.  Sadly, especially the vegan world (all the people we knew in common are vegans), but we're going to grow this world, right folks?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Anarchist Dinner

I met an anarchist vegan here in Oakland who let me know about a pop-up "restaurant" that he was in the process of dumpster-diving and otherwise gathering food for which to cook.  Of course, I had to check this out.

The event took place in the basement-like outside structure of a house folks call "The Free House" because, apparently, it is free to live there, although contribution to building and changing the house itself is very much appreciated.  I got the impression that if someone is handy, helpful, an anarchist or pretty close, and wants to live in Oakland for free, it would not be very difficult to find acceptance there.

The basement-like area (it has an outdoor entrance -- actually, two, one on either side) is an art space.  Here's one wall.

This was early, so the place wasn't packed.  Actually, it would seem that no anarchist was quite organized enough this time (lol) to get the word out about the dinner, so it was unusually poorly-attended.  They had a menu with prices, but it was really by donation, and there was so much food leftover afterward that everyone remaining ate what they wanted.

I brought my new friend Christopher along with me, and we ordered a few things.  I got the Corned "Beef" Hash and also some vegan donuts.  Christopher, who tries to eat what he calls a "high raw vegan diet," and does not eat gluten, settled for some Palak Paneer, which isn't raw, but it's still good food that was not bound to contain any vital wheat gluten, like mine did.
The plating is not gourmet, but that's not the kind of dinner these folks do.  The hash was really good and flavorful, although I personally would have used less seitan and also shredded it into the hash rather than having large pieces.  Later on, when I ate more of it mixed in with other stuff, the amount a seitan was far less overwhelming.  Also, best vegan donuts I've had to date!  I mean, the trick is to actually deep fry them, which is simply not something I'm willing to do at home, and it's also incredibly bad for health, but I didn't care, I wanted to eat them, and I did, and they were great.
Sadly, I never ended up getting to try any of the Palak Paneer, but I think it looks like it tastes really good.  I mean, the thing with the casual style of cooking these people were doing is that it is really real, honest, make-do-with-what-you've-got, prepare, taste, alter, taste, serve.  Food Not Bombs style. 

Later, I went up to their kitchen to check it out and steal some pictures and also to eat some more grub.  This house is particularly concerned with issues of gender equality and rejecting hetero-normative culture.
So, that is their sink.  See the cardboard sign above it?  It says "Consent Is Sexy."  Cannot say I disagree. I think it's interesting that this is the message that appeared in their kitchen.  It shows where their activism is primarily focused.  I dig it.

I really liked how their compost bag looked, although I kinda wanted to tell them that they could take those ends and put them in water and grow more veggies!
Here was one of the people doing most of the cooking.  In the front, I think that was the only non-vegan item, still vegetarian.  Unfortunately, it seemed to me that very, very few people in this group were vegan, or even vegetarians.  Most described themselves as "ex-vegans," and when I'd ask them why they turned back, no one had a very clear answer on this.  Then I'd ask why they were vegan in the first place, and their answers were all along the lines of it being the anarchist thing to do at the time.  What I get from this was that they never actually got down and dirty with the philosophical ideas that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, that non-human animals' lives are worth no more or less than human lives, and that it is not OK to participate in an oppressive system that harms everyone -- environmentally, psychologically, and systemically.  Nevertheless, they're still keeping these dinners pretty damn vegan, so, cool.

Everything in the next picture was vegan, and the bread, in particular, was ahhhhhmazing.  It was all really good, though.  I ate a bit of each thing on this counter.

OK, one more of the food.

...And one to show you the cool chaos of the place.

Interesting stuff.  Oakland has a lot of different people who are engaged in various forms of advocacy, and this house is only one example.  I love how easy it is here to meet new people and make friends and be a part of the expansive scenes with all their various sub-sectors. 

To close this post, allow me to show you this picture I took of this weird and beautiful, dirty and lovely graffiti art space at the Marina in Oakland that the anarchist fellow I referred to at the start of this post brought me to see.
I love it.  Art out of dirt and debris.  I think about how this marina must have once been filled with non-human animal life.  There are still some interesting birds there to see if you sit and watch, but mostly, it's a human playground of junk now.  How did the piano get here?  In a way, this space feels like it rebels against the human debris, but in another, it embraces it, owns it.  I don't think that the many people who had a part in creating this space had any focused idea behind its intentions.  It makes me feel both full and empty, both hopeful and hopeless.  It's hard to describe.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Conscious Eating Conference

It's terrible to fall behind on blogging when there are so many exciting things to write about, but I suppose that exciting things will often cause one to not blog and instead concentrate upon what's exciting!

Where to start?  Well, for today's post, I'm going to start to tell you about how amazing San Francisco's East Bay is for vegans.  I have attended and participated in conferences, events, pop-up restaurants held in anarchist basements, and one-on-one effective vegan outreach.  It has been incredible.  I will try to post every day for a few days until I catch up.  And, of course, I'll have some posts about cooking and eating out!
On April 6, 2013, I attended the Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley, where I had the immense pleasure to see Dr. Michael Gregor speak, as well as Melanie Joy, author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. Sure, it was preaching to the converted, but it was still pretty damn rad.  Hella Vegan Eats catered, and there were also mini cinnamon rolls from Cinnaholic.  I didn't take any pictures at the event, but I did take a pic of the maple pecan roll I bought from Cinnaholic a few days before.  It is a very popular all-vegan, cinnamon-roll-only bake shop in Berkeley that omnis usually are not aware is vegan and just love.  It's fun to tell people it's been vegan all along and let them realize that vegans just do it better!  Baketism (that is, vegan activism through our mad baking skillz)!

Dr. Gregor, of, is so enlightening to listen to, more so than the other speakers in the context of a people who are already vegan.  He's so funny, and he seems like a pretty good dude, for a doctor (ha!).  He did pretty much this speech here, which I highly recommend watching, because it's entertaining, educational, interesting, and important.  Also, in the question and answer period at the end, I spoke up to say that when he refers to diabetes, he's talking about type 2 diabetes, but can he address how veganism relates with type 1 diabetes?  I totally already knew the answer to this, but I wanted some reputable confirmation: he said it would have the same health effects as on a non-diabetic, although it's possible one can reduce the amount of insulin that needs to be injected every day if one is eating whole veg foods.  And that, YES, type 1s will need to continue injecting insulin no matter what we eat.  I just think it's important to increase people's understanding about it, as I am certainly not the only type 1 who is a bit annoyed by this.

Melanie Joy was good, but if you're as engaged with veganism as I am, I don't think that anything she says is much of a surprise.  However, when I used Melanie Joy's definition to explain what "carnism" is to my sister, who was highly offended by the word without actually understanding it, she seemed to get for the first time that the belief wherein it is a given that non-human animals are less important than humans is not so different from any other "ism." It is taught to us in our culture without our knowledge or consent.  We're indoctrinated from childhood to think these things, just as we're indoctrinated to feel disdain for homeless people or have subtle racist beliefs.  One must consider and analyze these beliefs in order to begin changing them.  Still, I kinda prefer the word "speciesist."  It's all good, though, I'm not sure it's worth an argument at this point, but I do think that for some reason "carnist" raises omni hackles much more than "speciesist."

I thought that Karen Davis from United Poultry Concerns was excellent as well.  You don't need to convince me that chickens (or any other birds) have personalities and emotionally complex lives.  I've had some pet birds.  That's something I'd never do now, and I regret my uninformed decision to do so before, but at least by knowing them, I learned how curious and playful and loving and excitable and sometimes spiteful birds can be.  Their personalities really vary, and I feel a strong connection with them.  The speech was somewhat about whether or not the backyard chicken movement is ethical, but it also was a bunch of stories about the lives of chickens on their sanctuary, which were tender and fascinating.

How lucky am I in the San Francisco East Bay?  So damn lucky!  Guess how much this conference cost, with its awesome speakers and catered lunch?  $10.  I kid you not.  I mean, a person could easily spend $10 on just the tamales that Hella Vegan Eats made.  But to also see these talks?  Wow!  Plus, I bicycled to get there and back?  I love this place.
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