Sunday, April 29, 2007

How Humane is Houston?

The Humane Society of the United States just released the "humane index" which is an attempt to determine the overall humaneness of America's largest metro areas (Houston is the fourth largest city in the US in case you weren't aware). The results? Houston ranks a disappointing 22 out of 25 :-( Of course, at least we beat the Big-D who came it right behind us at 23. No big surprise, San Francisco ranked number 1 followed by Seattle. So how is this ranking determined? Twelve categories were used to determine the ranking, and in some cases was normalized based on the population of the city to ensure a fair comparison. I include a brief description of each category in parentheses as defined by HSUS. Here is a breakdown of the categories and how Houston ranked.....
1. Bird "Shooters" (ratio of wildlife watchers to hunters) - #24 Ouch, yeah that sounds about right though. I used to sit across from a guy who had pictures of himself and a dead turkey and dead deer that he shot on his desk. Have you ever been in to Gander's disgusting.
2. News Hounds (animals issues in the media) - #12
3. Fur Shame (fur retailers per capita) - #2 Yay for us!! But wait, isn't it a little hot in Houston for fur? Still, something to be proud of
4. Egg-Citing Policies (cage-free egg policies) - #20 The brunch crowd around here loves their frittatas.
5. Captive Entertainers (number of captive marine mammals and elephants on display) - #8 So we do alright here, but why focus solely on elephants and marine mammals? Not sure....
6. Citizen Advocates (local engagement with HSUS) - #25 You don't have to "engage" HSUS to be an animal advocate.....personally I think local grassroots organizations are where it's at. Not a fair measure.
7. Puppies in Windows (% of pet stores selling puppies) - #24 No excuses here. If you want a dog, adopt. Always spay and neuter.
8. Wildlife Whisperers (number of wildlife rehabilitators) - #3
9. Big Top Cruelty (number of circus shows per capita) - #13 The circus is headed to Houston this summer....don't go!
10. Humane Eats (veggie restaurants per capita) - #12 With the number of restaurants in Houston alone, a vegan could never go hungry. But we must support those places and be sure to let your restaurants know that you would frequent them more if they offered vegan options
11. Congressional Compassion (animal protection legislation) - #24 Get out there and vote!!
12. Seal Protectors (number of restaurants boycotting Canadian seafood) - #23 Red Lobster sucks

I am not sure how accurate this ranking system is, or really even what the purpose is. Including a category on what percentage of businesses and grocery stores use cage-free eggs is simply a reflection of where a large percentage of HSUS's money has been spent. I believe this money would be better used promoting veganism.....period. Cage-free eggs are just a status symbol, these chickens still have their beaks seared off, undergo force molting, rarely (if ever) see the sun, and are still sent to the slaughterhouse. And as I mentioned, measuring activism by how many people are involved with HSUS is severely limited, there are so many other organizations on the national and local level. As far as I'm concerned, you can have a greater impact by going vegan and influencing your friends and family to move towards veganism than writing a check to the HSUS. So Houston...... I don't think we're doing that bad.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Movie Review: Year of the Dog

Last night, my boyfriend and I ventured downtown to see the new movie "Year of the Dog" starring Molly Shannon (of SNL fame) as Peggy, an animal-lover who is about to embark on a journey of self discovery. The movie began with some light-hearted humor as several of the quirky movie characters were introduced; including her gossipy office mate, a roll-your-eyes boss, a nimrod neighbor, her control freak brother and sister-in-law, and of course her beloved and adorable dog Pencil. Pencil is her closest companion, humans had always seemed to disappoint her in life, but never animals. Sadly, Pencil dies and Peggy is left feeling alone in the world. That is until she meets an ASPCA volunteer who helps her adopt a new dog and discover veganism and animal advocacy. She then becomes an active volunteer, gathering signatures to stop animal testing, trying out new vegan foods, taking her niece and nephew to a farm sanctuary, and finding homes for abandoned dogs. Through this point of the movie, I was both thrilled and touched. It was so exciting to see someone else's journey to veganism played out on the big screen! And of course, the audience was getting exposure to compassion and the concept of veganism. Too bad the movie didn't end there. After that, several events occur that set Peggy off and she goes....well....crazy. While I realize that a lot of these scence were for comic relief, I think they further engrained the belief that mainstream America has of vegans, that we are extreme and irrational. The movie did end on a positive note, but it was hard to forgive some of the earlier scenes. That being said, I would recommend that vegans and non-vegans alike see this movie. It was both funny and heartbreaking, exciting and frustrating.....and especially touching if you love dogs.

Before taking off for the movie, I whipped up the last of my homemade seitan BBQ style using Annie's Naturals Hot Chipotle BBQ sauce (note to self, halve the recipe for the seitan next time!). Served it as an open-faced sandwich along with a simple spinach salad (grated carrot, mushroom, avocado, grapes tomatoes, and roasted sunflower seed with simple vinaigrette made of flax oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some whole-grain mustard) and some sliced peach. I snuck some Endangered Species chocolate (the Koala bar, dark chocolate and cherries) into the theatre for dessert during the movie.
A few of the other meals this week include: "cheesy" bean and cheese enchiladas from vegweb, pecan-crusted seitan from the Candle Cafe cookbook with french green beans, cashew-buttered sweet potatoes (modified from Vegan LunchBox almond-buttered sweet potatoes), some of my mom's homemade bread, and some sweet strawberries and mango. Also, this morning after a long run with my boyfriend and stopping by the farmer's market (yes! I did it!) I whipped up some french toast with the last of the bread and had some fresh Texas blueberries, grown less than 150 miles from Houston. All of this topped with maple syrup and powdered sugar and a glass of cold vanilla soymilk. I felt I deserved a little treat after running 5 miles. Have a happy weekend!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

You Go Girl!

A few days ago Heather Mills was kicked off dancing with the Stars....but before she made her exit, she took a stand for the animals. One British entertainment guide labeled her speech as a "bizarre plea." She told the audience and the rest of America, "If you can't stop eating meat, do a no-meat Monday and go vegan and change the world." Apparently, now that she's free from her dancing commitment, she plans on launching an online health and beauty business called I Do Care and promoting veganism, there is even talk of her opening a vegan restaurant.

I realize that there are a lot of people out there that don't like Heather Mills (the British media being number one it seems), but I respect her for saying the 5-letter v-word on national television.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Whole Foods Myth: Shopping with a Clear Conscience?

I must first of all confess, I do shop at Whole Foods. Here are my reasons: 1) it's on the way home from work, 2) it has a good selection of vegan and organic items, plus the bulk section which I don't know what I'd do without, 3) the produce looks sooooo much better than other chains in the area (that's almost all there is in Houston by the way...chains and strip malls), 4) they don't always look at me like I'm crazy for bringing cloth bags and reusing the plastic produce bags, 5) I enjoy subjecting myself to long lines and impossible parking on a Sunday afternoon. I should make more of an effort to get organic and often local produce at the Central City Co-Op or the Bayou City Farmer's Market, but the hours are sometimes challenging and I am an avid meal planner so I usually know the produce I want, but enough excuses. Still, as part of my vow to decrease my ecological footprint and to get away from shopping at Whole Foods so much, I will make a better attempt at supporting these local places. If you are looking for farmer's markets near you, a great resource is Local Harvest.

As a self-confessed customer at Whole Foods, I feel it is my duty to voice my opinion (i.e. complain) since that is the American way. Awhile back I was shopping for a new brand of toothpaste to replace my usual Colgate (wasn't sure if it was vegan or tested on animals, plus wanted to support a smaller company). After a few minutes of browsing the selection and reading labels of a few different brands, a Whole Foods employee approached me and asked if I need any help. I responded that I was looking for a vegan toothpaste that was not tested on animals (although I think that is implied in vegan, but I wanted to be clear). She giggled at me for a moment, as if my questions was quite ridiculous, and said, "Oh, none of these are tested on animals. At Whole Foods you can shop with a clear conscience!" My jaw almost hit the ground. From where I was standing I could see rotting flesh on proud display at the butcher's block and I didn't have to strain my neck very far for the stinky, pus-filled cheese section to come into view. A clear conscience? Hardly. What an amazing impact it would have if Whole Foods announced today that it will no longer sell any animal-based products. After all, their CEO John Mackey is a vegan himself. Back in January, when Whole Foods threatened to pull POM Wonderful products from their shelves because they tested their products on animals, POM almost instantly vowed to end the testing. I don't understand why Whole Foods will fight to protect those animals that are tested on, but will not defend those that give their lives for human consumption, and are treated horribly for the time they do spend on this Earth. Seems like a double standard to me. At the Whole Foods where I shop, today is marked "animal compassion" on their calendar as one of the 30 ways to reduce your carbon footprint and end global warming. I'm waiting for them to live up to those words.....

Monday, April 23, 2007

Vegan Fashion....An Oxymoron No Longer

Just a quick post to declare to the world that vegan accessories could be the next trend in the fashion world (!) according to a Lucky Magazine editor that appeared on the Today show. Of course, none of my favorite accessories appeared in their list of the up-and-coming vegan chic items, so I thought I would give you a quick sampling.....

Bags - eco-friendly recycled candy wrapper bags from Ecoist (so it's not faux leather, but at least it is made from sustainable materials, plus they plant a tree for every product you buy!)

Shoes - I love my Molly shoes in dark green (cute, but not comfy) and my Earth Solar shoes (comfy and still pretty cute), both available at mooshoes.

Wallets - My pleather wallet that my sis got me in the Netherlands from Kitsch Kitchen.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day!!

This past week the news has been filled with tips on how to "go green." Often the impact of an animal-free diet is overlooked in these articles (here's one that focuses on vegan diets). And even most that mention the affect of animal agriculture on the Earth's environment, they tend to focus on only meat products, ignoring dairy and eggs. I picked up a copy of the book Green Living, just to look for a few extra conservation ideas that I could add to my routine in honor of Earth Day. I was surprised to see that the first chapter was entitled "The Passionate Palate: Smart Food Choices." With further reading, it mainly discusses the issues surrounding genetically modified foods, the importance of buying local and organic produce, and the "passion" surrounding our food choices. This passion for those who are vegetarian or vegan is described as "avoiding meat for intensely personal reasons, including religion, health, concerns about pollution from factory farms, or disgust over how animals are raised." But of course, it then points out that 'ethical omnivores' are "just as passionate about their choice to eat meat and dairy products only if animals are humanely raised." I let out a big sigh....once again it seems the public is given another excuse to eat so-called "happy meat." I realize this isn't a book about veganism, but to describe and even quote the term "ethical ominvore" seems like a step back. Tomorrow I plan on starting a new chapter, hopefully the suggestions will improve....

I also visited a website today to calculate my ecological footprint. I was pleased to see that the first question asked how often you eat animal-based products. Unfortunately my score was not what I thought it might be. My footprint is 23 acres, the average American is 24 acres. Living the way I do means we would need 5.2 planets. Hmmmmm, what am I doing wrong? I think the biggest impact I have is through traveling via plane. It will be challenging to cut back on that since I have so many destinations on my travel wish list.....but I vow to do a better job to do my part.

For Earth Day I helped my boyfriend take our recycling to the nearest recycle center and enjoyed the beautiful spring weather here in Houston on a long run in the park. For dinner, we tried another new batch of seitan from Vegan with a Vengeance cooked using the Seitan Piccata recipe from Candle Cafe cookbook. On the side, zucchini pasta with fresh basil from my mom's garden, mushrooms and toasted pinenuts. The seitan was perfect, and the sauce had just the right blend of tart lemon with capers and shallots along with the fresh parsley. A glass of Snoqualmie sauvignon blanc complemented the meal nicely.
One last amusing story from the weekend. We went out to dinner on Friday night, a hip restaurant in the Heights. I ordered for my main course the only thing I could off the menu, the vegetable plate. Of course, I asked the waiter to please omit anything containing dairy or eggs. He smiled and said "I'll try to make it as vegan as I can." I smiled back and replied "Well, I won't eat it if it does." The dinner was disappointing, I should have said I was allergic..... They even got my boyfriend's order wrong.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chick-Fil-A: Don't You Just Hate Em??

Alright, so I promise this will be my last post title that carries a tune with it (at least for the rest of the month).

As I was driving on the freeway the other week, a particular billboard in the sea of advertisements and driving distractions caught my eye and made me roll my eyes in disgust. After searching "the google" for an image to document the irony of their message with no luck, I set out on my mission to take my own picture.....a tougher task than it may sound with weaving around sideroads and finding the right angle for the shot!

Chick-Fil-A is known for their "Eat More Chikin" campaign, somehow insinuating that it is more "compassionate" and certainly better for you than beef. But this sign takes it too far....."Shakes: the perfect chikin washr downr". This advertisement just reinforces the myth that dairy products are not cruel, and that cows somehow live happy lives out on the pasture, eating green grass and frolicking in the open fields with their baby calves. I don't think that many Americans realize the torture that is involved with every glass of milk or slice of cheese. Not only do the dairy cows spend more years than the average beef cow getting tortured, but they meet the same fate (slaughter) and end up in Chick-Fil-A's fast food competition chains as hamburgers. And of course, their calves are sent to veal farms. I wouldn't be surprised if the National Dairy Council sponsored this ad.

To make matters even more ironic....this past weekend I helped out with our local Society of PEACE group to hand out veg literature at an Earth Day Festival. And what do you know, Chick-Fil-A was a sponsor of the event!!! That made it even more important for us to get our message out to the public.

On a less serious note, last night we used some more of the veggeroni on a personal pizza. I used the Vegan Lunch Box recipe for the whole wheat crust and her Sneaky Momma's Tomato Sauce (with some additional veggies added; zucchini, mushrooms....this sauce is awesome). Topped the pizza with spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli, and some nutritional yeast. I love veggie pizzas. I remember not liking them as a kid and I now wonder why. The best part is that I halve the recipe, enough to make two pizzas for dinner for us and then I use the rest to make two calzones to take to work for lunches.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Sing the title to the tune of My Sharona, it will be in your head the rest of the day!! (it even made me look up the lyrics out of curiosity)

For my first post, I thought I would stick with something simple.....vegan food! No, this is not going to be a food blog, but I do plan on posting plenty of my culinary creations (the recipes mostly thanks to others, but I try to add a personal touch when I feel inspired to do so). Making seitan has been on my to-do list for awhile now, and this past weekend I finally found a recipe I was willing to give a shot. So I made Veggeroni (seitan pepperoni) following the recipe exactly from Fat-free Vegan Kitchen. The aroma of the fennel and mustard seeds made it even smell like pepperoni!

Last night I used the veggeroni in a wrap for dinner for my borfriend and I. Sauteed it with some green and red peppers, then added spinach, brown rice, black beans, corn, fresh cilantro, avocado, and some chipotle sauce.....mmmmm, tasty! You can eat the stuff cold too, it would be great on sandwiches. I think tomorrow night it will be a perfect pizza topping.

So go ahead, give veggeroni a try, remember, fake meat saves lives!!