This was originally published in Satya magazine’s final issue in 2007. Some of the info is a little outdated, but I’ll make an updated version one of these days!
Vegan food is too inconvenient. It just doesn’t taste good. How many times have you heard something along those lines? It seems too many conversations about animal liberation end with those deal-breakers. Now imagine a world where we didn’t have to deal with all that, where going vegan is welcoming, fun and, most importantly, delicious. Today it’s easy enough to look around and see that America is a much more vegan-friendly place than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Supermarkets are stocked with vegan burgers, tofu, tempeh and other protein-rich foods. Cafés offer soymilk, tofu cream cheese for your morning bagel and the occasional vegan muffin. Maybe even your meatball lovin’ grandma enjoys vegan ice cream.
The thing is, just seeing the word vegan—in the supermarket, at bake sales and cafés—is doing more than we know to promote veganism. People are often turned off by images of downed cows and debeaked chickens, and, of course, they should be. But while most people know in their hearts harming animals is wrong, their reaction more often than not is to turn away rather than to turn vegan. Presenting the vegan lifestyle in a positive light makes thinking about it easier. The more readily available vegan food is, the more the word vegan is out there and associated with something positive and yummy, the easier the transition will be. That is where culinary activism comes into play!
Every time I hear animal rights activists engaging in heated debate, I want to shout, “Shut the hell up and go invent a good tasting soy cheese!” Because it’s true, without one we are doomed. Of course, we can’t all invent a good tasting soy cheese (but can someone? Please?) [update - people seem to like Daiya and I love Cheezly so there is hope yet- ed], so I humbly offer 10 steps even the most activist-phobic among us can use to help create a vegan world. While these things may seem obvious, maybe even insignificant in light of what animals are going through every day, look at it as a chipping away at our meat and dairy based culture.
Also, dealing with issues of animal abuse can take a toll on a person’s psyche, make us cynical, depressed and, worst of all, make us lose hope. It’s important that we keep our spirits up, and sometimes seeing the words “Vegan Muffin!” in a bakery’s display case can feel like reading a newspaper headline declaring “Bush Impeached!”
To that end, here are 10 yummy ways to do your part in creating the vegan world we all want to live in.
Get vegan products into your corner store or supermarket
You don’t wanna waltz into a store you’ve never been in armed with AR literature and demand soymilk. Remember, they have security alarms under the counter. It’s simply not enough to ask for vegan items, you have to get specific. Write down the names of the products you want—better yet, bring in empty boxes of the products for the shop keeper. Small stores like to order from only two or three distributors so their supplier may not carry the brand you prefer. For that reason, asking for products from larger companies ups the odds for you. Also, if you are asking a store where you are not a regular customer, make sure you buy something so it doesn’t seem you are a door-to-door salesman.
Larger supermarkets are a little trickier since the manager makes the buying decisions. Usually, if you ask to speak with the manager they will make the time for you. Again, ask for specific items. It’s helpful to point out that lots of people have food allergies and will purchase dairy-free and egg-free things if only because of that.
Get cafés to carry vegan items
I admit it, I get jealous when I see people walking to the train in the morning with their muffin of choice and coffee. Of course we can bake our own but there’s a certain feeling of normalcy when you can walk into a café and snag a baked good.
If the café does their baking on the premises, bring in a sure-fire recipe. The least socially awkward way to proceed is to first request a vegan muffin. Then, depending on how it goes, tell them you will return with a recipe. This way you don’t come off as a crazy-carrying-around-muffin-recipe-girl. Make sure to test the recipe beforehand. Also, pick something simple that doesn’t call for egg replacer or flax seeds. When you return with the recipe, bring a sample of the muffin. Show them you mean business.
If the café doesn’t do their baking on the premises find a wholesale vegan bakery in your area. More and more are popping up all the time so do some research; ask around on internet message boards. Bakeries often deliver up to an hour away so maybe there’s one you aren’t aware of. Once you find the bakery, call and see if they will deliver to your target café. If they will, the next step is to give the café the contact info for the bakery and vice versa. Make vegan magic happen!
If you can’t find a vegan bakery, find any bakery and ask if they would consider producing a vegan muffin. Again, harness the power of the all-mighty food allergies!
Bring vegan goods to a bake sale
Any bake sale, not just one specifically geared toward animal issues. Sometimes we are wary of marking our baked goods as vegan, thinking people won’t want to try them. But try making your sign really pretty, as if “vegan” were a desirable selling point. Write it in bright colors, surround it with hearts—pimp your vegan goods! Remember, as long as your cookie looks good people will purchase it. If you choose not to disclose the veganitude of your items in writing, then at the point of sale tell them as an aside, “Oh and the great thing about this is that it’s vegan!” No more shall we mumble “vegan” under our breath, say it loud and proud!
Write to companies and get them to produce more vegan goods
Get lots of people to write, call and send e-mails. You can write something like, “Dear so and so, I really used to enjoy your crackers back when I suckled at the teat of death, but now that I am vegan I won’t eat them. Can you please change your murderous ways?” (Only leave out the part about suckling at the teat of death and the part about them being murderers.)
Get your school or work cafeteria to serve vegan options
A petition would work really well here. Make sure your petition takes into consideration how healthy vegan foods are. Lots of people have had success with getting their cafeterias to carry vegan items, especially in colleges where many people are on the four-year meal plan. PETA has a wonderful guide to veganizing your college cafeteria.
Make your friends and family vegan-friendly
Bring vegan dishes to holiday gatherings—any social gathering, really. Just get vegan food out there to the masses starting with the ones closest to you.
As gifts, buy them vegan cookbooks to go along with something they “really want” (no, it doesn’t have to be Vegan With A Vengeance, but that isn’t a bad choice!). Or take them out to a great vegan restaurant. Cook them a yummy vegan meal. Prepare dishes familiar to them: soups, chilies and curries. But here’s a suggestion: don’t break out the nutritional yeast on the first date.
Yes, it would be great if you could make everyone vegan but the next best thing is to make them vegan-friendly. You never know when they will be met by the anti-vegan—that guy who wears the People for Eating Tasty Animals beer hat. Having people who aren’t vegan but are in your corner helps in our defense.
For people you are really close to and that will love you no matter what, replace some of their non-vegan things with vegan ones. Store Vegenaise in their refrigerator door, push the half and half to the back with that ancient jar of apricot preserves and put the Silk Coffee Creamer front and center. Hopefully they will try these things once they are in the fridge, and if they don’t, well, you’ve voted vegan with your wallet and that’s okay, too.
Bring cookies to the office
We all know the one cubicle everyone gravitates to, the one whose inhabitant always has a tissue, handiwipes or that ubiquitous bowl of candy on her desk. Well, guess what? That person is now you. Bring in vegan cookies and candies a few times a week. Your co-workers will love you for it and might even be willing to listen to the reasons why you are vegan. As for the handiwipes and tissues, well, those don’t hurt either.
Offer to write a food column for your local paper
Put that GED to good use and sharpen up your writing skills. Call your local newspaper and ask if they have any need for a recipe column. A good pitch is to say that it will be a column about local foods, offering recipes that are seasonal, healthy and will feature your area’s best produce. Sneak the word vegan in there when you get a chance, but if your ’hood isn’t ready for it, don’t be pushy. Just get it out there.
Start a vegan food blog
The Blogger’s Choice awards are a great example of how effective a good food blog can be. Readers nominate and vote for their favorite blogs, and last year, among the hundreds in the running, Vegan Lunch Box won as Favorite Food Blog. No, not favorite vegan food blog, but favorite food blog overall. Is that not progress? At the time of this writing, the top three blogs in the food category are all vegan ones. It doesn’t take much to get started, just a decent digital camera and an internet connection.
Don’t just cook but cook! First learn the basics—cook with every vegetable you can get your hands on. Learn how ingredients act, experiment with different methods—grilling, sautéing, broiling. Watch cooking shows (if you can stomach seeing all that meat), read cooking magazines and cookbooks, and cook cook cook! Even if you think you are the worst cook in the world, keep at it, you’re bound to get better. Even if you are lazy, even if you are busy—vegan culture needs you to cook. The more you cook the more you will be connected to your food. Cooking like a madwoman is actually what made me vegan and what keeps me vegan. Nourish yourself, love your food, share your food and maybe the world will follow. Who knows, you might be the one to invent that soy cheese that actually tastes good…