Tag Archives: Lifestyle Choices

Foie gras and the politics of privilege

By Kyle

There is some culinary controversy leading up to this year’s Winterlude. Celebrity chef Martin Picard was set to cook for the Taste of Winterlude event on February 4.  Picard is well known for his use of foie gras, an ingredient produced by force feeding a duck or goose. Due to the exceptional level of cruelty involved in the production of foie gras, the selection of Martin Picard as chef has been controversial.

After a number of people raised concerns, the National Capital Commision (NCC) asked Picard to take foie gras off the menu. Instead of preparing a meal sans foie gras, Picard decided to back out of the event entirely. Apparently, Mr. Picard is unable to prepare a meal without using his favourite ingredient.  The NCC announced that another celebrity chef, Michael Smith, has taken on the tremendously challenging task of creating a meal that doesn’t contain the fattened liver of a force fed bird.

On the heels of this decision, there have been complaints about self righteous “animal rights nuts” who are unfairly pushing their choices and opinions on everyone else. It is a common tactic to portray vegans and others concerned about animal rights as strident, unreasonable, and downright oppressive. I find it fascinating how the most privileged and powerful have an uncanny ability to paint themselves as a persecuted minority.

The myth of the confrontational vegan is not only overblown, it turns reality on its head. I’ve eaten meat in front of vegans and I’ve declined to eat meat in front of omnivores.  Vegans have sometimes given me flak for eating meat, but it’s nothing compared to the harassment I’ve received while choosing vegan options in front of omnivores.

When I turn down meat, I am often bombarded with questions. Usually these questions have a hostile tone and are asked by people who aren’t really interested in the answer. There are also the fun rants about how eating meat is natural, how it’s healthier, how humans are on top of some mythical food chain etc. These are all presented, unsolicited, as if they were clever and novel arguments. If I refuse meat in certain crowds, my masculinity is challenged. But easily my favourite tactic is when someone, who wouldn’t otherwise have done so, orders copious amounts of meat because they think they are making some sort of point.

In that fine tradition, Steve Mitton of the Murray Street Bistro has decided to put foie gras on the restaurant’s menu as a protest. Foie gras is not usually served at the restaurant, but in a breathtakingly obnoxious move, he has gone out of his way to add it. This is a good example of the way privileged people often react when they are asked to make the tiniest concession.

I think there are two reasons for these excessively negative reactions. One reason is that omnivores make up the vast majority of the population and as such are accustomed to being catered to and getting things their way. This is undeniably a privilege. When privileged people are asked to accommodate others, something they aren’t used to doing, they often view it as a deep injustice.

The other factor at play, I believe, is that deep down many people know that using animal products is problematic. When they are confronted with this reality, they often get defensive as a way to cope with the cognitive dissonance.

Clearly, not every omnivore behaves this way. Most are perfectly pleasant people. However, it is long past time we do away with the myth that those who are concerned with animal rights are the ones who push their views on everybody else. More often than not it’s the other way around. We live in an omnivore’s world and nobody is being oppressed when people are asked to make a small concession and refrain from eating foie gras at a large public event.

The author, Kyle, is neither a vegan nor a vegetarian.

NCVA Launches Restaurant Outreach Program

After several months of planning, the NCVA’s Restaurant Outreach Program has officially been launched. This momentous occasion occurred last night when I handed over the first Restaurant Outreach info package to a server at Pubwell’s Restaurant on Preston Street at Elm.

The Restaurant Outreach info package

So what is the Restaurant Outreach Program? Basically, it’s an attempt to get Ottawa’s omni restaurants to be more vegan-friendly. Our ultimate goal: to produce a list of dozens of Ottawa restaurants at which vegans can order off the menu with neither fear of hidden animal ingredients nor extensive discussions with servers and chefs.

How does it work: First, we developed an information package that explains what vegans are, why accommodating them is good for business, and how to add vegan menu items or veganize existing items. The info package is available on the NCVA’s Web site here.

Now, the distribution phase has begun! I am starting in Little Italy since that’s where I live, and will move on to the Byward Market, the Glebe, Westboro and beyond.

With any luck, Ottawa restaurateurs will heed the call to participate in our program in order to receive our support and publicity. Keep your eyes on the blog for news of new participants, who will also be listed in the Restaurant Outreach section of the NCVA Web site.

Now here’s the part where I ask for your help. Individuals interested in hand delivering info packages to restaurants in their area are invited to drop me a line at erin.anne.osullivan@gmail.com. I’ll get the packages to you. All you have to do is hand them over with a smile, and keep track of which restaurants you gave them to.

I also invite everyone to have a look at the info package and to offer any suggestions at all for improving our chances of making this campaign a success.

Come on, Ottawa veggies! This is your town. This is your food. This is your chance to make marginally more bearable your meals out with bone crunching moms and dads, siblings and significant others, clients and coworkers! Viva la vida!

Tried and true tofu turkey

By Edelweiss

Although I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years, my mom and dad have still not ventured into cooking veg*an holiday food. So every year, I take a tofu ‘turkey’ to Montreal, frozen, and heat it up when they’re cooking their meal. It travels well, and it’s nutritious, tasty and festive.

You’ll probably have to spend some time at the store getting all the spices and other ingredients, but assembling the ‘turkey’ doesn’t take long. It needs to be made over three days, and takes about 15 minutes each day.

Enjoy! Serves about four people. Double the recipe to serve eight.

Homemade tofu ‘turkey’

Stuffing

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped finely
  • 2/3 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon savory
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/12 cups vegan herb stuffing (or use bread crumbs: crumble half a baguette that’s a few days old and dry)

Saute the onion, celery and mushrooms. When soft, add the garlic and spices. Cook for five minutes. Add herb stuffing or breadcrumbs, and mix well. When cool, roll into a ball, compress, cover with plastic film, and put in freezer until frozen.

The “turkey”

  • 1 pound firm tofu
  • 1 pound silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon savory
  • 1/4 teaspoon rosemary

Crumble firm tofu and add silken tofu: mix with hands. Add spices. Put a couple of 20-inch pieces of plastic film in a cross on a plate, and put half of tofu mix on the plastic.

Take stuffing from freezer, remove plastic film, and put on top of tofu mix on plastic. Pour rest of tofu mix over the stuffing ball, so it covers the stuffing completely. Make into a ball, press down on the ball so there’s a base (so it doesn’t roll around), wrap it in the plastic and put back in the freezer until frozen.

Basting Mixture

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable base
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice or syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

Mix, and put into a little glass container for traveling.

Cooking: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Thaw and put tofu turkey into baking pan, and pour half of basting mixture over it. Cook for 30 minutes. Add rest of basting mixture and cook for another 15 minutes.

Gravy: I use a packaged vegan mix. You can also try a gravy recipe like this one: http://vegetarian.about.com/od/saucesdipsspreads/r/misogracy.htm

Cranberry sauce: I make my own, but you can (of course!) buy it ready-made.

Happy holidays!

Edelweiss

 

Being veg over the holidays

Just say No!Politely declining a slice of Auntie Bertha’s fruitcake over the holiday season is to be expected. But how do you “politely” justify turning down your mother-in-law’s pot roast or her home-made butter cookies?

Let’s be honest, it’s all about food for the holidays. It’s that time of year more than any that you find being veg is not so easy. And I’m not talking about cravings for the unsavoury foodstuffs. I am addressing the bewildered faces and sighs of incomprehension when you make clear that you will not be eating any animals or animal products for the season (much in line with your eating habits every other day of the year). Some people believe that just because it is the holidays, you should try to at least fit in and relax your anti-social eating tendencies just to make others happy. The question is, do we relax any of our other ethics during the holiday season? Why should you consume animal products only to appease a group of people whom–though you probably love–don’t understand you fully? You need not be a militant activist vegan to just say no to the bombardment of animal food options. We’re all pressured either by others or our own traditional upbringing or tastes to indulge on something we normally wouldn’t, but perhaps from experience you’ll learn that you don’t ever feel better after doing it. The problem is how to not come across as the weird one who has joined some hippie cult and is only at the party to make others feel bad about themselves. So what do you do?

My advice? Just say no, thank you. Be polite, but firm when you are presented with food you don’t eat. If you were allergic, it might be easier to say no, but as it stands, allergies generally are treated with more respect and understanding than not eating certain food items for the sake of veganism. I can’t recommend whether or not you should elaborate on your reasons behind saying no. You may be prompted or questioned in some way which gives you no choice, but nothing is stopping you from putting a smile on your face and saying, “Let’s just leave it there. I’m happy that I am able to eat what I want without feeling scrutinised by others”. People need to learn to let you live your life without feeling threatened. If you are comfortable enough going to a holiday dinner where they serve meat and where many people will be eating it in front of you, then you should be confident that others should also feel comfortable with you declining those options at the dinner table.

For those of you who are surrounded by vegans and vegetarians for the holidays, count yourselves among the lucky few. But if you’re like me and find it hard to resist the disapproval of your family and friends during this time of the year just because you won’t eat their food, keep in mind that you’re not alone. Stick to your morals, avoid confrontation and debate, and remind your family/friends that in the spirit of the season, you are thankful that you can be together, sharing this moment, and respecting everyone’s personal wishes wholly.

Happy Holidays!

saladinasteakhouse.wordpress.com (for more posts by joe vegan)

Why I joined the NCVA

I’m still pretty new to Ottawa. It’s times like these when I attempt to get my feet wet in a variety of social scenes. Originating from Toronto, I was spoilt with the non-stop bombardment of social possibilities. Being vegetarian in Toronto was like being an official member of a popular club. Now in Ottawa, I’ve learned that to get my feet wet, I have to go to the water myself.

I was somewhat apprehensive at first, but mostly excited, to explore the world of the NCVA. Once I did, I realised that becoming a member was not only going to benefit me, but it was going to benefit many, and thus it was the right thing to do. Once I trained myself to stop calling the NCVA the “OVA” (which clearly doesn’t make sense from a vegan perspective), I was ready to fit in. That’s pretty much all it takes, because the organization is not-for-profit, volunteer-based, and vegetarian, whose mandate is to educate the public about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and more generally, to improve public health. This is one group that could easily mesh well with my own set of ethics and beliefs and, for that matter, anyone else’s. Whether or not you are vegetarian, promoting health of the greater public and of yourself is a worthy cause.

And then there’s the whole social aspect. I often feel alone as a vegan in a meat-eating world (shameless plug). Generally, going to work, socialising with acquaintances, friends, and family, doing the groceries, or whatever, I started to feel like I was the only vegan out there and no one would ever understand me anyway. It still baffles me that people still think it is ok to mock or slam vegetarianism right to your face, as if they can’t see how the derision is prejudiced and discriminatory. But then I attended a NCVA event and immediately let out a sigh of relief–Finally! a place where I knew that I wouldn’t be made fun of for being culinarily different or more ethically sound. It was like my own personal vegetarian haven, where like-minded people admire and support me and my vegetarian lifestyle.
 
There was also the fact that with the NCVA, part of my social life could align with my morality, which is a great coupling. Being veg was always a great way for me to show the rest of the world that I care about animals (and the environment, and my personal health), but I was presented with the opportunity to take it a step further. By joining the NCVA, I realised I was supporting the greater cause of promoting a plant-based diet to the rest of the world. I was chipping in, wearing the badge, taking a stand! Coming out of the proverbial vegetarian closet was great for my social life, but I hope it also made it that much easier for anyone else who wants to do the same. Supporting the NCVA arguably equates to an increased vegetarian presence in Ottawa and thus a happier, healthier city.
 
Finally, this was my way of giving back to the community. Although nothing beats the warm and fuzzy feeling got from my childhood teddy bear (Mr. Fuzzy Wuzzy, if you don’t mind), a close second for me is always donating to a worthy cause. The best thing about donating to the NCVA is that I not only got the incredibly highly-sought after warm and fuzzies from the act of giving, but I also get a membership in return. I figured my $20 membership was a donation to something I cared about deeply, as well as an opportunity to connect to fun social events and new, like-minded people (and get great NCVA member discounts at great veg and veg-friendly restaurants in Ottawa!).
 
So, although I’m far from the poster child for the animal rights movement, nor am I saving the planet on a daily basis, I at least knew that, yes, I could make a small, but significant, difference just by being a part of the NCVA. I already felt like I was becoming more of an effective voice for those animals among us who don’t have one. The good news for you folks is that you can do it, too! You don’t even have to wait till the next NCVA event to land yourself a hot new membership. You can do it now right here from the convenience of your own home and at your leisure: ncva.ca/membership

Basically, you’re welcome.

— joe vegan @ saladinasteakhouse.wordpress.com