June 8, 2007

Vegan Culinary Activism in 10 Yummy Steps

by IsaChandra

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 Some of the info is a little outdated, but I’ll make an updated version one of these days!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…

  • November 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm: Xavier Talley

    Thank you so much for this article you wrote!!!! I enjoyed every comment you made mostly because it is syncronized with some thoughts I am having. I recently became vegan( This was my choice to become vegan), I realize that reality is you have to live with all sorts of people and their eating habits( Omnivore/Vegetarian/Herbivore/Self-proclaimed carnivores). I love the part where you that at least coaxing along vegan-friendly families, friends, neighborhoods and societies is doable. Not through PETA( hell and brimstone tactics), but through hosting bake sales, dinner parties and etc.( boosting the flavor ratings of vegan foods) you have a better chance to have a vegan-friendly society. In other words” YOU captivate more FLIES with Chocolate Cupcakes, than with Crap( Being the typical vegan= JERK, self-righteous, Whistleblower) and vinegar( PETA Tactics). With the mention of every PETA campaign, I a peacemonging Vegan have to literally put my foot in my mouth. Maybe PETA and every VEGAN would bake some delicious torte and napoleons( VEGAN of course) and pass them out to the masses!!! Positive change wil happen not disgusting backlashes of mindless tabloids. I am a avid cook and i stress that taste and presentation is key in cooking( My philosophy is the same as i was when i ate and cooked with meat and animal products) I dont settle for cardboard and sawdust taste and presentation( bland and boring). I thank we do need to develop better tasting vegan products though( were making good progress). You inspired me to go to culinary school to advance the fight for good tasting vegan foods/society( only then will people willingly put down the steak and pork chop)

  • November 25, 2010 at 8:41 pm: Cookiecat

    Well, I too thank you much for your article, site and recipes. AND attitude. I loved your writing as well–very much! And unless a few friends of mine already have your books, they’ll be receiving them from me for the Holidays. I am not a vegan– yet. It has always seemed too complicated, even tho the images of animals suffering kept me from eating meat a lot of times. So I start and stop. But I think maybe your recipes will keep me going. Most look spectacular. That’s what I’ve always needed: simple and fast. And I’ve never really come across vegan recipes like that before. So I thank you oh so much. And, just for the record, PETA has played a role lots of people don’t want to recognize/acknowledge but that has helped. And the war (not our Current war) didn’t end because of words. And well, whistleblowers–we need lots more. But I guess you really have something with your idea about changing the world through food. Who can ignore good taste?

  • January 3, 2011 at 10:12 pm: Rennie

    Awesome advice. My husband and I are vegan (and have been for years) and have found that by simply hanging out and bringing GREAT vegan food to parties, we have had a great impact on our friends. We don’t even have to guilt them any more – every dinner party is now 100% vegan.

  • January 14, 2011 at 2:42 pm: Sarah

    So glad I found this blog! I’ve been spreading your vegan cupcakes to all of my social contacts and–no surprise–they are always well received! I also love your attitude. I get so depressed and upset about animals rights and meat eating that I usually try *not* to read about it. But you’re right; we should also focus on the fun part and on the positive aspects of veganism! I’ve been vegetarian for years and I’m moving toward veganism. I bet your blog and recipes will help me get there. Thanks!

  • February 21, 2011 at 3:41 am: amazoncowgirl

    I love this article. This is veganism as I like to practice it. Teaching by example and not by preaching!

    I’ve been slowly winning over my “meat and three veg” mother by making vegan but recognisable versions of her favourite meals. Tonight we’re having lentil and mushroom shepherds pie and she’s actually really looking forward to it! One small step for man……

  • April 12, 2011 at 9:46 am: Marcos

    Brilliant. This is the kind of activism that I support and follow. It may sound a little over the top, but I truly thank you for throwing this kind of message out to the world. We’re living in a weird time, when being vegan is too closely related to fanatical groups with a “the ends justify the means” filosofy, and too far away from the original essence of what I believe brought so many people into choosing to skip over that Big Mac.
    I’m sorry about any typos or redaction mistakes, I’m still strugling with english, but I tumbled here and couldn’t help but give you a virtual high five.

  • May 24, 2011 at 2:52 pm: Charlotte Brabant

    I loved when you said “…. 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!” Yeh!!!!! I live in Lexington, KY and went to a new restaurant called Windy Corner 1 mile from where my horse lives in the middle of thoroughbred racing country, The menu had four vegan selections with vegan printed beside them!!!! I almost cried with joy :). I had the super salad with fried tofu. It was great! I started a blog yesterday (not much on it yet) and have Post Punk Kitchen as a link and a link in a paragraph so people can buy Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance, easily. Thank you for everything.

  • May 25, 2011 at 2:21 am: Caity

    You know, I really really like your attitude. It wasn’t the hardcore angry ranting about how anyone who ever ate meat is EVIL(unfortunately there are people out there that make every good cause look bad) that brought me to sites like PPK, it was hearing good things about the food and genuinely wanting to try it.

    I think if more people were able to see that vegetarian and vegan food was perfectly delicious and do-able, then more people who are kind of on the fence would take a walk on the herbivorous side. As you pointed out, it’s never been easier than it is now to cut meat and animal products out with the huge variety of veg products available even in mainstream markets now. Besides, it’s yummy and the food can speak for itself, no ranting and finger-pointing required :)

  • June 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm: Marina

    I´ve always loved great food, and even though cooking for pleasure wasn´t something normal at my house, I developed an intense passion for it and became a bit of a mad scientist exploring and playing around with all kinds of yummy ingredients and flavours. Eventually I decided to take it further and apply to culinary school (am about to start that). Going vegan for me somehow made an even better cook, you can get so creative. But I confess that I was afraid to try exactly because of the preachy vegans I had known before. Luckily for me, I have a lovely friend who was super supportive who advised me to take my time and told me to buy Vegan with a vengeance. :) BTW, I actually convinced two people to do a vegan try out after they tasted some of my baked goods and got excited that we can actually have delicious tasting animal free desserts! Score!

  • August 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm: Linda

    Thank you for the article. Giving people your great food (like peanut butter pillows or any of your cupcakes) is so much better than being holier-than-though. Can you PLEASE write a “Vegan Kids Take Over the World” cookbook next??? You know, one full of burgers, “hot-dogs,” snobby joes, sandwiches that are lunch box friendly (something other than PB&J and or processed soy-ham with mustard and lettuce), “chicken” fingers, beal balls and pasta, etc. With 4 kids, my only real challenge is recipes that they like ( I love the stews and curries, and international dishes, but they turn their noses up) and that can be cooked quickly while 4 kids are screaming. Isn’t it most important to raise the next generation respecting animals than anything else? Thanks!!! PS…is your cat vegan?

  • September 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm: Roseleine

    Thank you for writing this article. I too am a vegan and raising two little ones vegan also. I agree with Linda with writing a “Vegan Kids Take Over the World” cookbook. Even though my children will eat most of the foods I cook but sometimes I feel they want burgers and hot dogs too.

  • November 28, 2011 at 12:14 am: Caity

    Edible activism is the best activism :)

  • January 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm: Nottingham_Kathleen

    I like to hink of myself as being a stealth vegan – sneakily leaving gorgeous treats on the staffroom table and then copying the recipes (hope you don’t mind Isa!) for anyone who wants them. People are always amazed that they are vegan. Also, I always have something yummy for lunch that smells gorgeous and wafts around – people are always curious to know about the food and it opens up and questions in a much nicer way.
    Keep on rocking the recipes guys!
    (At home when no one’s looking I just eat huge amounts of toast some nights but hey, I can’t have people thinking that vegans do that all of the time, now can I?)

  • February 10, 2012 at 10:12 pm: Coila

    Thank you for all the time and effort you’ve put into making it easier and more pleasant to be vegan. Yours is my go-to site for recipes of all types (not to mention your books which I’ve purchased most of ). Thank you for making it easier to treat others to vegan food. It’s one thing if I don’t *love* a dish–I’ll still eat it and appreciate that it’s vegan–but it’s really nice to have so many AWESOME dishes to serve people and help them rethink their stereotypes about veganism. You’re really making the world a better place and I admire that!

  • February 22, 2012 at 12:57 am: Andrea

    I know this article is old, but it is also AWESOME! I love your blog and check it every day, and I am slowly collecting all your books. Veganomicon is the one book I trust every time to make an amazing recipe. It is my bible (in an awesome atheist way). I have only been vegan for about 6 months, but you and Terry Hope Romero give me strength. I totally agree with your points and I’m so glad someone wrote something like this, because I too get sick of the negative association those intense vegans have given then rest of us. Sure, I feel just as strongly, but I don’t go all crazy on people, because that never works! Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you.

  • March 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm: tanyakristine

    You are naturally funny. I want to hang out with you : )

  • June 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm: david

    I am 64 years old & in good health and have decided to “go vegan”, however, I really don’t give a damn about the “animal rights” crap that wasd spouted in the previous article. I’m doing this for my health, not for bragging rights that animals should not be killed. Get serious; there is not a 16 year old kid that I know that won’t drool over a big mac. Stick to good health and keep your “holier than thou” opinions to yourself!!

    • June 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm: IsaChandra

      Ha, I do keep them to myself. You came to my blog, I didn’t come to your house! But good for you for going vegan. Maybe you’ll get down with the ethics as well someday? Even if not, good for you. I still love you.

  • July 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm: Crissy


  • July 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm: Creepy Crissy

    I meant inspired!!! lol woohoo! I LOVE U ISA!!!!

  • January 30, 2013 at 9:51 pm: Saya

    I love the idea of vegan cooking and eating, but I don’t like the war that people turn it into. Food is food, and whatever your choices, you should respect those of others. I enjoy cooking for my friends, vegan and not vegan. Even if I don’t eat everything that they do, I don’t feel the need to “guilt” people into following my example, that’s false self-righteousness, and it’s sickening.

  • April 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm: Allison

    This is a great article. I’d add on to the bake sale idea with holiday cookie swaps. My family usually makes a bunch of holiday treats to be distributed to friends and family. Why not slip some vegan recipes in there!

  • May 6, 2013 at 7:50 am: Eve

    I do lots of AR activism in the streets. Sometimes my fellow activists will get burned out. I often fear this could happen to me. It’s pretty difficult and sad to look this genocide plainly, for what it is and not get really depressed. This article reminded me if I ever need a break from showing people the truth of circuses, labs and factory farms, I could take my activism into the kitchen. Cooking is definitely just as important as the other type of activism. And it’s creative and pleasurable. Most of all, I think it can heal me so I don’t burn out.

  • September 3, 2013 at 11:23 am: marilou

    amazing.just amazing.i’m very new to veganism,fat gay vegan suggested your blog and i’m so glad that he did!unfortunatelly i currently live in greece so there are a very few options for me.here there is no variety of vegan foods and ingredients and if you find them,they are way too expensive.but i try,even though that means eating veggies all day,every day!