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Dad tries vegan!

28 Jan counterfullofgoods

I’m half-italian and most people can guess that. I’ve got dark eyes, a set of hands that are ever-moving while I’m talking, and I really, really like to feed people. I mean I really like to feed people. It’s a bit of a problem. But in my house growing up, that was how we showed love. My Mom explained that this was part of their ‘peasant ancestry’. Her family never had money, so food became the medium through which her family could express their love for one another.

DSC01849In case you missed the post, last week my Dad confirmed he has either had his eyes opened or his body snatched by aliens who have replaced him with Robo-Dad Version 1.0 (non-judgmental, curious about veganism, acknowledges a diet void of meat and dairy won’t cause you to wither and die). He asked me for a favour. He asked me to cook vegan food for him, for a week.

Always the obliging, obedient daughter (hah!) I accepted this task willingly. Thanks in large part to helpful meal suggestions by readers, my Dad will be chowing down on these dishes:

  • Smoky Split Pea Soup from Appetite for Reduction (I also sent him home with Field Roast frankfurters to sub out his childhood favourite: lentil soup which was unfortunately made with dairy and chicken, and German weiners.)
  • Rainbow Chili (I call it this because I can’t think of a single colour not represented in this. Used Sol Cuisine Veggie Crumbles for additional protein and to mimic that typical chili texture)
  • Sweet Potato Black-Bean Quesadillas with Daiya (I’ll post the recipe for this soon. Let’s just say this dish is my security blanket, I think I could make it with my eyes closed. It’s always a hit.)
  • Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (Cookies are a dish, right? They are in our house.)
  • Succulent Shepherd’s Pie courtesy of my dear friend Vanessa (He better eat this barefoot, because her pie will knock his socks off)

In addition to cooking and baking, I tried to give him some pantry basics, including: a single serving of Spiced Carrot Cake from Sweets From the Earth, 2 Ginger Snappers cookies from New Moon Kitchen, Tofurky Roast Beef Style slices, vegan margarine, Zen Chocolate Pudding, various Gardein products, vegan parmesan, Daiya, So Nice soy milk and strawberry soy milk from Natura.

In the midst of all this excitement, I noticed the dogs were jealous of all my kitchen activity, and how could I resist? I made up a batch of vegan doggy biscuits too!


{Quick directions here: 1/4 cup dried fruit (not grapes or raisins as they are toxic to dogs!), 1/4 cup pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour, 1/4 cup of oats. Preheat oven to 350F, and line sheet with parchment. Mix all ingredients together well. Roll into 1 inch balls about 2.5 inches apart, press down on tops to flatten. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool and refrigerate. Fight urge to not feed them all to your dog[s] at once. Feed within one week!}

Dad picked up his goodies tonight.  He is genuinely excited. No lamenting what he’s “giving up” and not a single comment about animal foods being “good for you”. He’s a stoic dude, so seeing him calmly accepting the kindness of another person (especially one of his children) was really touching. He was really adorable too, asking about what needs to be refrigerated, and what the Daiya can be used in (answer: ALL THE THINGS). He did not turn up his nose at the thought of meatless ‘chicken strips’ or vegan cheese.  This is a guy who a few months ago told me soy makes men grow boobs.

I’ll be sharing his progress throughout, and while I am guardedly optimistic (we do live in a non-vegan world), I think this is a huge step for Dad, for me, and for our relationship. I am so thankful that I get to do what my Nonna, my Mom and my Aunts all do to share their love: they feed each other. While what I feed my loved ones is different, I do it with every bit as much passion, excitement and humility. Aw, dang. Now I’ve got a hankering for my Mom’s tomato sauce…

My Dad may be a robot (and a note about my great uncle)

22 Jan

Last week something strange happened. My Dad asked me for help. This likely does not seem worth mentioning, but that’s only because you don’t know my father. Let me paint a picture: he’s a stoic, stubborn German dude who emigrated to Canada and brought along with him many of the stereotypical aphorisms about life being relentlessly hard, and thankless work being the cornerstone of any financially secure life. I love my Dad, even if we don’t agree on– well, almost anything.

Take for example, not eating animals. My father has in his arsenal at all times, unsolicited advice about: protein, calcium, how good meat is for you, eating like our ancestors, how meat staves off illness, etc. He’s not rude, it’s just that food, like all other subjects, happens to be something he has a strong opinion on (even/especially if that opinion is based on folk nutrition, overvaluing tradition, cognitive dissonance, etc).

So you can imagine my surprise when last week on the phone, out of the blue, he starts telling me about what stops him from eating vegan (or at least mainly vegan). Had I been sipping a beverage, I would have spit it out. Had I been chewing gum, I’d have bitten off my tongue. Had I been with him in person, I’d have been looking for visible signs of circuitry. Who was this honest, vulnerable robot imposter and what did he do with my generally pessimistic, dismissive father?

{As an aside, I have three main theories about what happened: 1) He finally watched the copy of ‘Forks Over Knives’ I gave him two Christmases ago; 2) One of the vegans he works with rubbed off on him or 3) Aliens. As it stands, I haven’t asked him, and I could care less.}

We talked for quite a while. I dropped all the usual sound bites: the inherent violence of slaughter, cholesterol and saturated fats, environmental problems, and all the great alternatives that now exist. He told me the single greatest barrier to him eating vegan is: he cannot picture what he’d eat.

He told me when we took him to Hogtown Vegan (an AMAZING vegan restaurant in Toronto) he was super happy seeing that so many of his favourite foods could be veganized. He wants to see more of it, and frankly, I can’t really blame him. I want him to see all the great alternatives that exist because although we’d eventually like to see people eating a wide array of whole plant foods, you can’t ask someone who goes from eating a burger and fries to chow down on a quinoa salad with tempeh. They’ll give up before they even start. That’s not human nature, and such a rapid shift is simply not going to jive with the powerful pull of the human palette.

So my Dad asked me {*drum roll please*} if I would prepare enough dishes for his lunch and dinner for the week for him, and he’d come pick them up. That’s right. The guy who once told me fish is practically a vegetable is asking me for my culinary charity. He said he’ll gladly pay for it all, he just wants to experience what eating vegan could really be like, because he “knows” it’s better. I’M AS SHOCKED AS YOU.

So here’s where I ask you folks to help me, help my Dad. Please offer up your most delicious recipes in the comments section focused on these 3 main criteria:

  1. Taste! Give me the salt, the fat, the sweet. I don’t mean give me excessive amounts of it, but no fat-phobic recipes allowed!
  2. Familiarity! This is for a man in his 60’s who thinks iceberg lettuce is a superfood.
  3. Ease! Nothing too complicated as I’ll ultimately be teaching him to replicate the recipes himself, and apart from some OJ and a few bananas, his kitchen looks like a movie set, and his soup cupboard looks like a disorganized Andy Warhol exhibit.

I thank you in advance for this, and encourage you to keep checking back! I’ll be charting my Dad’s progress, and what worked/didn’t work.

One last aside: several months ago, my Dad told me that his uncle bought some cattle for his farm out in the prairies. His intention was, like all other farmers, to make money (to feed the cows until they were big enough to slaughter). But something happened to him. My great uncle became very attached to the cows and couldn’t send them to slaughter. So he kept them. He kept them and let them live out their natural lives, despite being laughed at by the rest of his Mennonite community. My Dad told this story with a sparkle in his eye, a sparkle that was just barely discernible at the time. I’m not one to overvalue genes, but between you and me: I love knowing that the blood that ran through my uncle’s veins in that more oppressive time, is running through mine, and that my decision to love animals instead of eating them is the next logical step in the refusal to send them to their death. I realized today that the same blood is also running through my father’s veins. And this makes me hopeful. For him, and for us all, and ultimately for the animals.

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday: so much life, in such a little body

7 May

Someone very dear to me passed away on Saturday night, and I am completely bereft. She embodied so many of the qualities I admire in a friend. She listened twice as much as she spoke, she was so humble despite her obvious specialness, and she was never the source of conflict. She was a quiet fighter, filled to the very brim with a darling innocence you had to experience to understand. Ruby was her name, and she was a guinea pig I was fortunate to share just over a year with.

Dear Ruby (right) hiding behind Abigail

I don’t know where Ruby came from, except to say that wherever it was, she hadn’t been shown much love by humans. The presence of a hand (even one offering food!) was enough to send both her and her sister Abigail running to the furthest corners of their pen. While Abigail is the more confident alpha, Ruby was the unassuming, shy girl, forever hiding behind her big sister. It was a slow process, but little by little, they began to trust us. They had no reason in the world to, but they did anyway. What an honour.

I had always felt a particular fondness for Ruby, though I love my other three ladies and their endearing idiosyncrasies too. But Ruby was the underdog. The smallest, the mildest, the first one butted away from the food. After the first time Ruby got sick (it turned out she had a massive bladder stone), I bonded with her in a way I just haven’t with other animals. Thanks to a rigorous medication schedule, I was literally able to help to make her well again. As her “nurse”, I felt our connection deepening, and I know she felt it too, as evidenced by the way she began to come flying towards me each time I came into the room, wheeking and squealing.

To love someone so small, someone who never grows out of their fragility, is such a unique experience. Holding a little 700 gram being in your hands, and so many times teetering on the edge of losing her, it was such a relief the way we always managed to bring her home again. And before you could say “who-wants-a-blueberry?” she’d be good as new, clucking and squealing and occasionally even popcorning.

Ruby was so strong. After passing that bladder stone, it was so undoubtedly painful that our vet welled up as she tried to describe what this must have felt like. We realized we had a real fighter in our midst.

I don’t want to write about what happened when she got sick this time. It is too fresh, too sad, too traumatic, too many questions still unanswered. No cancer, no heart disease, but instead, symptoms that indicated Addison’s Disease, which made her the first guinea pig on record to present with these symptoms. (Sadly, it could be that most people simply don’t allow their guinea pig to live long enough to present the symptoms.)

Though we’d nursed her back to health so many times, this time I instantly knew something different was wrong. I walked into their room, giving them their usual breakfast announcement (“Babies! Blueberrrrries!”) to which they all run out of the pen to greet me, trying to scamper up the side and out. But Ruby didn’t appear. Then I heard a quiet, muted squeal. A very subdued version of the squeal she always greeted me with in the morning, and I peered under the ramp and saw her. Her head heavy, her body limp. She looked as though she’d been paralyzed. Within five minutes we were en route to the emergency vet, and 48 hours later, mere moments after we arrived home from visiting her in the hospital, our vet called to say she had passed. Quietly, unassumingly–  she went just as she lived.

One of the greatest sadnesses about someone like Ruby dying, is that she was pure innocence. She existed in her own little way, caused no harm to anyone, and yet her life was cut mercilessly short, proof to me that the universe truly is cold and random. Eduardo Galeano talks about how we live in an “upside down” world, and the fact that the Rubys of the world are stolen so quickly, while those profiteering from violence and oppression can (and often do) live lives too long and too effortless, is all the proof I need of such a fact.

Ruby mattered. She’ll always matter to me. I deeply hope she knew that. There are so many things I wish I could tell her, and make her understand.

Ruby, did you know how much I love you? Did you know how much you matter to me? How dear your every squeal was? I have memorized all of you, and play it back to myself now. Your timid approach from out of your hutch, nose held high, trying to sort out what it was I had for you. I knew your call from your sisters’ distinctly, even from the other end of the apartment. Do you know how very special each thing about you is to me?

What do I do now with all that’s left? Where does all the love I have for you go?  It certainly doesn’t dissipate into thin air, but it isn’t something I can simply transfer into someone else. Well, that may not be entirely true. The only true moments of peace I have known since you got sick were when we walked the dogs along the bluffs, or through Cherry Beach. All my other time requires the utmost distraction, or I come apart at the very remembrance of your passing, like a punch in the stomach I can count on again and again. Undone by the smallest reminder of you, finding the wash cloth I wiped your mouth with so many times (when we had to feed you Critical Care). The stains are still there. I’ve tucked it away into one of my drawers, I could never just go on using it again. I’ll keep it with me always, as a reminder of you, that you were a good and beautiful person who existed, and as a symbol of the purest kind of love that is possible: unflinching, unwavering, steadfast love. On days when I cease to remember that I am capable of good things, I’ll look at that washcloth, and remember how many times I snuck into your room, to give you your medicine, how I fell in love with the way you looked when I rolled you in a towel and laid you on your back to feed you. I will remember that I was your guardian, and I did my best to give you a good life. No amount of money would have stopped us from trying to heal you, nor would the looks from people who just didn’t understand it.

Ruby, I was your guardian, the one who kept you fed and safe and warm and content. Hopefully, you were even happy most of the time. I think you probably were. I was the guardian of your gorgeous life, and for the rest of my days, I will be the guardian of your sweet memory. You will never be forgotten, not for a moment. Sadly, this is the closest thing to immortality we can offer one another, dear sweetheart. I will never forget who you are. Ruby, you are gone from this world, but you are not gone inside me.

If you have ever loved a guinea pig, or any other mammal for that matter, please consider familiarizing yourself with the issue of vivisection (animal experimentation). You’ll be shocked to learn that so many of the things we use on a daily basis are tested on animals just like Ruby. Check out an old blog post about this here, as well as the must-see-forthcoming film Maximum Tolerated Dose. My interview with the director Karol Orzechowski can be found here. If you currently love a guinea pig, please ensure they have lots of space, the best quality hay and pellets, and the comfiest digs a pig could hope for. And please– adopt, don’t buy your companions!

“We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle; easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we would still live no other way.”- Irving Townsend

Embodying accomplishments: my cousin Davide gives veganism a whirl

16 Dec

I asked my dear cousin Davide (who I often have really wonderful, controversial conversations with) to watch a couple documentaries (Earthlings and Peaceable Kingdom), but somehow we settled on him actually trying veganism for a week, with the intention of writing a piece for this blog. I  gave him no real guidance, and didn’t check in with him on his progress. In part, this was to see how easy it was to ‘navigate’ the vegan world as a newbie (and one in his first year of university), and also, it was to ensure I didn’t give him any real advantages (i.e.: telling him that delicious Daiya exists).

The result is a mixed bag– it didn’t create another vegan for the world [yet], but it is a very honest account of a young man with journalistic zeal who decided rather than take the easy road (by handing off a polished piece about how easy and delicious the experiment was to his ultra-vegan cousin), he reflected his honest feelings about the unplanned week long delve into veganism. I hope you’ll read it and find it as interesting as me (and evidently the McGill Daily who decided to publish it too), do.

The Vegan Trip

My eyes finally open. The curtains have too, but they’ve been that way all night. The rays of the sun pour in and ruthlessly penetrate my pupil’s. After being awake for nearly two days, over the span of a party and two all night clubbing sessions, my body is spent. On a normal Monday morning, I wake up at 7am to get ready for class. On this Monday, I was up at 7am, yet my night was just coming to a close. The world at 7am is a beautiful place if you have not yet slept. Regardless, it is far past 7am, I am still hung-over from a weekend of continuously stomping my liver, and most importantly, I am hungry…

My number one hangover commandment is to wait until 5pm to eat, otherwise the food merely resembles a $20 bill, entered into a change machine upside down. But today, commandments are irrelevant. It is the first of the most miserable month of the year (November) and only a greasy breakfast can satisfy the 30 day hangover that November brings. I rush to the cafeteria, wearing the clothes still caked onto my body from the night before, to make the ominous breakfast deadline. Cracking through the double doors of Bishop Mountain Hall at McGill, I swagger into the food section, just in time to fill my tray. I spot the illusive hot foods tray, and weigh my options. Sausage, eggs, French toast, and a couple others which I tend to ignore. What normally would be an ideal breakfast is instantly shattered however, by a sudden realization. I stare in confusion at the food as the sight of what I’ve come to think of as food options are covered by locks. Jesus! What’s happening? Am I still intoxicated? I expected a green fairy, not a Masterlock. Regardless of my all night clubbing habit, these locks are merely symbolic of the new found element of my life: Veganism.

I have not even begun to select my meal, and yet I can feel the rush of veganism spreading throughout my body. On a morning like this, I would normally manage to utter a few grunts, and the cafeteria ladies, used to this often indecipherable freshman Monday code, would plop some food on my plate. However, this morning, I am forced to think. Not that instrumental of a task. Yet in relevance to food, it’s a rather new found concept. I’ve become accustomed to the university food process and what it entails for someone like me. By this I mean that my weight is of no concern to me, I have no diet, and no restriction on what to consume besides whatever fancies my appetite. And of course with a meal plan, I cook absolutely nothing, so ingredients or calories don’t concern me. But this morning, I have to think. Is this from an animal? Is anything in it from an animal? Is this AN animal? These three criteria reduce my options greatly. I eventually decide upon soy milk, a couple of grape fruits, watermelon, and strawberries.

This option bodes well, as I tend to feel freshened by consuming fruit in the morning, and have since incorporated far more fruit, namely grapefruit, into my diet. As I sit at a cafe table and cut my grapefruit, avoiding the projectiles of juice emanating from it, I think. My Political Theory TA told me the class would take over my mind. At first I thought he was crazy, yet now, he seems logical. In a paper for this class, we are expected to construct a thesis based upon the logical progression of premises. Counterarguments of course, should be included in the paper, and the best ones attack the first premise, the most important leg on the chair. I realize that I would like to view myself as a fairly curious individual. I like to know why. I don’t like to take things at face value, and I like to ask questions. This would be my argument. Yet only a few hours in this vegan experience have led me to realize I have a MAJOR flaw in my argument. One of my premises is off. For me to even be able to have an argument, I need to be alive. To be alive, I need food and beverages. Yet, something so essential to my wellbeing is something which I have totally ignored. I like to analyze political decisions and views. Yet thus far, I have skipped analyzing food.

My quick stint with veganism has taught me that food can be, and really is, an extremely political subject. For many, the manner in which one lives one’s life is the most political thing about oneself. I have a great deal of political views, yet often do not act upon them. Veganism is acting upon one’s views in the most explicit way. Of course, not all vegans choose the lifestyle for social reasons, but for many, it plays a factor. If one is opposed to animals being mistreated, abstaining from using animals or animal products in any way would be a logical political action. Holy Shit! Vegans actually incorporate their views into their life in such an essential way. In a world of loudmouth coffee shop revolutionaries, constantly blabbering about what’s wrong with the world but continuing to pour gasoline on the inferno of rapidly spreading issues, vegans have the commitment to embody what they want to accomplish. In this sense, although I do not intend on becoming a vegan in the near future, I admire vegans.

This realization was the main benefit in my experience as a vegan. Understanding how much of an impact the choice makes on your life, as well as just how difficult it is to do, and to do well. With my dive into the depths of veganism, I was not prepared with the knowledge that I would assume most want to be Vegans acquire. I did no research on how to sustain a healthy vegan lifestyle at all. For the span of the week, it wasn’t worth it. But, I felt the lack of research on my body by the third day. My stomach hurt, and my body felt weak. I am sure this is due to the quick jump from eating anything to just non animal products or to the diet issues brought on by my lack of research. I wouldn’t place the feelings on veganism itself. Beyond the physical discomfort, I also felt far hungrier. At times I felt like a drug addict looking for their next fix, running around the campus drastically searching for food to appease my appetite. One notable experience came at the Subway on campus. I had done my research and discerned that the Veggie Delight option, with no cheese, on Italian bread, met the vegan standards. So I ordered it. The man making the sandwich asked me if I really wanted no cheese a couple times as if he did not believe me. After I assured him no cheese was wanted, he stopped, gave a look of utter despair, and muttered, “That’s depressing.” When I think about the reasons for becoming a vegan, the decision certainly wasn’t depressing. However when I sank my teeth in the sandwich, and was still incredibly hungry after it had vanished, my taste buds and appetite were more depressed than ever.

As the week came to an end, I craved meat more than anything. The famous smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s appeared in my dreams a couple times during the week. And so, it felt natural to have the fat sandwich as my initiation back into the world of the omnivore. As I plastered the sandwich in unusually large amounts of mustard, I thought about the week. I concluded that it is unlikely that I will become a vegan, at this point, or in the future as I know it. That type of dietary and lifestyle change takes a great deal of commitment, which for me, would require a raging passion for the issue at hand. I have not yet found that passion in the matter of food. To be fair, I have not done much research on the matter. I certainly will now however, as the experience has got me interested in veganism at least in an academic sense. An article was brought to my attention which claimed that vegetarians and vegans are more empathic than omnivores, which leads them to make their dietary choice. I believe this to be true, and place my decision not to adopt the vegan lifestyle almost solely on that concept. I have not developed the passion which would allow me to make such a drastic alteration in my life. Yet, all it took to return to my omnivore routine was the thought of the uniquely appetizing hallmark of Schwartz’s.  The time for veganism in my existence is not yet here. Yet this experience has led me to believe that if the second hand of the clock is heading in the direction of veganism, it has increased its pace…


For the holidays I gave Dav a copy of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. He is really excited to ‘dig in’, and when he’s finished it, I’m hoping he’ll agree to write another piece for the blog, and perhaps try his hand at a vegetarian diet, with proper planning this time!


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