Saturday, November 26, 2011

Marti Kheel--A Collective Tribute

We are long time friends of Marti Kheel, who worked with her as activists in the organization she co-founded, Feminists for Animal Rights and collaborated with her in creating ecofeminist theory sensitive to other animals.  We have joined together to create this statement remembering Marti Kheel because this effort represents the kind of work she always believed in—collective and supportive. We each have lost a dear friend, and we mourn the loss of that friendship. But, we created this remembrance because we believe honoring the importance of her singular life and work is essential. 

Marti Kheel was one of the pioneers of the radical cultural feminist approach to animal ethics now known as the feminist ethic-of-care tradition.  Her groundbreaking article "The Liberation of Nature:  A Circular Affair"  (1985) critiqued both the rationalist bias in Tom Regan's "animal rights" and Peter Singer's "animal liberation" theories, on the one hand; and on the other, the hierarchical dominative bias in the environmental ethics of Aldo Leopold and J. Baird Callicott.  Instead, Kheel called for "a female mode of ethical thought," which fused reason and emotion and was rooted in a personal sense of loving, caring connection with all life-forms.

In 1989, Marti published "From Healing Herbs to Deadly Drugs:  Western Medicine's War Against the Natural World," a powerful critique of the Western scientific view of the body as inert object, of medicine as a "war" on disease, and of the drug industry for its cruel use of laboratory tests on live animals, its corrupt promotion of dubious products, and its for-profit motivation.  

In "Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology" (1990), Kheel extended her critique of Leopoldian environmentalism and its macho valorization of hunting--an analysis she continued to devastating effect in "License to Kill:  An Ecofeminist Critique of Hunters' Discourse" (1995).

In 2000, she completed her doctoral dissertation at the Graduate Theological Union, writing “An Eco-feminist Critique of Holist Nature Ethics: Attending to Non-Human Animals.” Marti was a careful, meticulous writer. As she had already done the work of writer, editor, and copy editor, her contributions to anthologies were always delights to edit. Thus, keeping to her high writing standards, it was over a several year period that she converted her doctoral dissertation into her stand-alone volume: Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective (2008), a substantial articulation of ecofeminism, environmental theory, feminist thought, animal liberation, and eco-theology.

The importance of Marti’s contributions to ecofeminist philosophy cannot be overstated.  She brought active critical attention to standard masculinist approaches to other-than-human animal liberation philosophy by pointing out the overly rational and isolating perspective it so often took.  She focused her keen eye on environmental philosophers, including some ecofeminist philosophers, who while attending to whole systems and relations, generally ignored the lives of individual animals--other-than-human beings who have families and friends and who suffer horribly not only by our actions but through our willful neglect.  

As Rosemary Radford Ruether recognizes in her foreword to Nature Ethics: “The extent to which the dominant theories in contemporary environmental ethics are linked to male bias has not been generally appreciated, and Kheel makes the case more clearly and convincingly than anyone else has done to date.”

Marti’s ethic was one of active, engaged, empathetic care, not selfish or selfless care-taking.  And while she was critical of many, her compassion always extended to them.  She was a genuine philosopher, a lover of wisdom, of learning, and of debate.  In true feminist form, her philosophical vision sought to challenge aspects of our common ways of thinking about ethics, even those that don’t immediately appear to emerge from masculinist assumptions.  Since her earliest work, Marti’s scholarship drew on connections and brought out new possibilities for living more harmoniously with the movements of the natural world.  Throughout her writing Marti advocated a nonviolent, emotionally responsive, holistic, and nondominative ethic by which humans may live in harmony with nature and nonhuman creatures. 

As an activist, Marti also advocated and lived according to this nondominative ethic. In the early 1980s, she joined with others to start a small study group, where they formulated the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR). From its beginning, and with Marti as a central figure, Feminists for Animal Rights challenged the views that animals are undifferentiated. 

FAR asserted that animals are individuals, with feelings, needs, and the capacity to love and to suffer. FAR made comparisons with the way women have been perceived and treated in patriarchal society. To help illuminate this intersection, Marti created a slide show "Women, Nature, and Animals through an Ecofeminist Lens." Drawing upon an (unfortunate) wealth of cultural images, she showed how the dominant culture presents, in Marti’s words, “women and animals as wild, demonic beings that must be subdued, and as inanimate objects that exists to serve ‘man’s’ needs.” 
Marti Kheel at the first March on Washington for Animals.
Marti stands, smiling, above the FAR image on the banner.

FAR situated itself on the boundary between the animal rights/liberation movement and the feminist movement—reaching out to activists to highlight the connections between these movements: raising consciousness, advocacy, tabling at meetings and conferences, conducting workshops, letter writing, and the publishing of the FAR Newsletter. There, Marti explored the loaded issues that often still confound these organizations—sexist images in the animal rights movement and the presumption in the feminist movement that animals are ours to use and consume. Promoting veganism was central to the activism of Feminists for Animals Rights, as it was in Marti’s writings and her life. 

Through the FAR newsletter, ideas formulated by Marti and others reached into both the feminist and the animal advocacy communities in this country and throughout the world.  Before any state passed legislation to incorporate companion animals in orders of protection for battered women, before leading humane and animal advocacy organizations recognized the connection between harm to animals and domestic violence, FAR developed a program of foster care for companion animals of battered women. 

At animal rights conferences, FAR would sponsor conversations for women to discuss their experiences. Marti was always there, listening, supporting, making arrangements to talk further. 

Her compassionate life, like her work, was fully engaged; she didn’t just theorize about non-violence and care, but she lived and died by those values.  

This remembrance is only the beginning in what we expect to be other acknowledgements of her legacy that insure her visionary achievements are not forgotten. Next November 9-10, 2012, there will a conference in honor of Marti’s work at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Ct. 

This obituary was written collectively by Josephine Donovan, Batya Bauman, Lori Gruen and Carol Adams.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Meat Misogyny: Sexual Politics of Meat Chic?

Over at I respond to four recent images that have been sent to me. I write: So many images, references, newspaper articles and other manifestations of the sexual politics of meat have been flooding in, that we need a moment just to see them all in one place. Warning: be prepared to be depressed or outraged or that strange combination of both that results from living in opposition to the dominant culture! (I include the links as they were sent to me.)

One of the things I notice is the recurrence of structuring dominance into the images in one way or another; blatantly or subtly, it's there.

The sexual politics of meat just keeps circulating. See the full blog here: 
Meat Misogyny: Sexual Politics of Meat Chic?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Shirley's Moussaka

Let me confess at the start: I didn't expect to like this recipe. I vaguely remembered moussaka pre-1974, and I didn't think potatoes would work in it. So, I postponed trying this recipe. And I waited too late. Now I can't ask Shirley about a few things in this recipe.

But, oh my gosh, my friends who still eat dead animals LOVED this recipe. I cooked it one day and served it the next so that all the flavors intensified.

Shirley writes, "Moussaka is a Greek signature dish with many variations.  Typically ground lamb, eggs and cheese are used.  This recipe calls for veggie ground beef but it can just left out entirely, if desired.  While potatoes were not used originally the potatoes in this recipe make it really good but you could use zucchini instead or in addition.  Even people who think they don’t like eggplant will like this recipe.  

"If you do not a have a Vitamix or other high-powered blender, you will need to soak the cashews for an hour or up to overnight before blending.  

"Read these directions through before starting."

Shirley advises to allow time for salting eggplants slices.  But then she says, "This is not an absolutely necessary step but is recommended to take bitterness out of eggplants." I hate salting eggplants and I didn't do it. 

Note that she calls for 3 medium to large eggplants. I had two large eggplants and there is no way my casserole dish would have held anything else! This is something I would have asked her about. The other thing I changed was that I used a pound of mushrooms instead of half of a pound.

The seasonings are wonderful!

Greek Moussaka
Serves 8-10

salt and olive oil
3   medium to large eggplants, stem end cut off and sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch
6 - 8 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch slices
1  tablespoon extra olive oil
1   cup chopped onion
1   medium red bell pepper, chopped
8-oz. package mushrooms, chopped or quartered 
1   14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
2   tablespoons tomato paste
1   package ground beef style veggie meat, optional (Boca crumbles, Yves, Light Life)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 
1   teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon salt - or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon each: cinnamon  and nutmeg

Béchamel Sauce:
1/2 cup raw cashews
2 & 1/2 cups water
2  tablespoons cornstarch
1  teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1.  Sprinkle salt on eggplant slices and allow to sit for 30 minutes to an hour in a colander, then rinse and pat dry. Or ignore this step.

2.   Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place eggplant and potato slices on an sprayed baking sheet and brush them with oil.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  You will probably have to use two baking sheets. (Note--it took four baking sheets for both potatoes and eggplants!)

3.  While eggplants are roasting, sauté onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms in olive oil over medium high heat for about 5 minutes or so.

4.  Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste until mixed.  Add veggie ground beef and parsley, cumin, salt and pepper and cinnamon and nutmeg. 

5.  Spray the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan with non-stick spray.   Add a layer of eggplant slices, then a layer of potato slices.  Add veggie ground beef mixture then cover with potato slices, then the rest of the eggplant slices.

6.  Make Béchamel Sauce:  Blend Béchamel ingredients together and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. (Note: you don't have to do this over low heat, which can take a long time.) Pour sauce over eggplant.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 to 35 minutes.  Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Leftovers are good the next day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Southwestern Corn Salad Olé

Of this beautiful dish, Shirley wrote, "This colorful, delightful low-fat salad is perfect for pot lucks, picnics or a summer luncheon or even a Thanksgiving dish.  It keeps well.  It is worth the trouble of all the chopping to get it together."

I don't think enough is said in favor of chopping. Chopping is a very rhythmic activity, and, it's been found that when writers feel stuck, they should go do something rhythmic. Somehow the rhythm of the activity (walking, sweeping a floor,  ironing, and, of course, chopping!), helps to unblock the mind. I like to think that the rhythm connects the left and right sides of the brain so that they start working together. 

Maybe, we all need in our lives the kinds of rhythm that chopping provides. In fact, I got so carried away chopping the veggies, I didn't use half of each of the peppers, I chopped all the peppers and once chopped, well, I thought, I'll throw them in, too! And I probably used more cilantro than Shirley suggests.

Once you start chopping you really make a recipe your own!
Serves 8 - 10

1   16-oz package frozen corn, defrosted
2   cups quartered cherry tomatoes or seeded and diced tomatoes
1   can kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
1   cup chopped red onion
1   cup diced peeled carrot
1/2 each red, green and orange bell peppers, seeded and diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup sliced black olives
2   avocados cut into 1/2-inch cubes - use firm but ripe avocados - not too soft and mushy
1   fresh jalapeno, seeded and diced
2   cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1   teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

Put defrosted corn into a large bowl.  Add tomatoes, kidney beans, red onion, carrot, bell peppers, cilantro, black olives and toss gently.  Add avocados, jalapeno, garlic, cumin powder, salt, black pepper and lime juice.  Toss gently again and cover.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serving suggestion: serve individual servings in lettuce cups

Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Corny Dogs

The State Fair of Texas opened today!

Living in the Dallas area has given me some unusual opportunities. Probably none was so strange as the day I was invited to ride an antique fire truck in the company of a group of jokesters known as the Boneheads. A few hours before the official opening of the State Fair of Texas, they would arrive at the Fair's front gates. 

Until this year, it had been a ninety-year ritual.   

The Boneheads created this tradition of going to the Fair before it opens, because they claim the previous year’s State Fair was never closed. How can a parade filled with dignitaries arrive at the front gates of the Fair to open it, if the previous year's Fair has never been closed?

It’s all great fun, traveling on top of the old fire truck, very slowly, from downtown Dallas through Exposition Park and ending at Fair Park. We clamber off  and watch as the Boneheads solemnly close the fair, “locking” the front gate. 

The Dallas Morning News, in its guide to the Texas State Fair, features a photograph of a child eating a corny dog. Someday soon, only boneheads (lower case boneheads, not you, oh venerable Dallas Boneheads), will eat the non-vegan kind of corny dog.

Here's a do it yourself corny dog from Shirley Wilkes-Johnson. As we lament the end of an era, the Bonehead's "closing" of the State Fair, let's celebrate this corny dog -- the treat of tomorrow. 

Corny Dogs

Makes 8-10

This is a good batter for frying different things.  Try it on onion rings, peppers, etc.  These are quite easy to make and delicious. 

8-10 vegan hot dogs (I use Worthington Big Franks)
8-10 popsicle sticks
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1/3 cup corn meal
1   tablespoon nutritional yeast, optional
1 & 1/2 teapoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teasppon salt 
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teasoon cayenne pepper (or to taste), optional
1   tablespoon Egg Replacer by Ener-G
2   tablespoons water
1   cup soy milk 
Oil for frying

1.  Drain and dry vegan hot dogs and insert popsicle sticks to make a handle.  Set

2.  In a large bowl, combine flour, corn meal, nutritional yeast, baking powder,
     mustard, salt and pepper and cayenne, if desired.

3.  In a measuring cup, whish 2 tablespoons water and Egg Replacer until well mixed.
     Fill cup with soy milk and whisk until well mixed.  Whisk liquid into flour mix. 

4.  Dip vegan hot dogs into batter to coat and then into hot oil in a deep fryer or
     electric skillet.  Fry until golden and crispy.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve hot. 

Variation:  You can also make “corny pups” by cutting each veggie dog into four equal pieces, then dipping into batter to coat and frying.  Serve as an appetizer with toothpicks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New York Times: Leading the way in the sexual politics of meat

Dear New York Times,

Of course, meat advertisers sexualize dead bodies. They've been doing it for years. How do you make dead flesh that, when alive, suffered in living and dying, attractive? Just fall back on the classic, misogynist, "make a body consumable approach." Make it seductive. Appeal to the reader you imagine, a heterosexual male.

But, what is this trend in the New York Times of doing the work for meat advertisers? This book cover? It's from the Times in the 1990s--an article about low fat meat, so, of course you showed a weight loss advertisement with an aneroxic calf all but saying, "I used to be an old cow, but look at me now!"

Your review of the Penthouse restaurant? Where the only thing properly dressed is the lettuce? You were eating steaks there. So many strippers have reported to me their awkward feelings as they take off their clothes while men watch, eating bloody bodies.

Two weeks ago, celebrating the sexualized ads for a butcher shop?

Hey, New York Times, you are in a rut.

This is not original. This is the Sexual Politics of Meat. It is disgusting, shameful, animal-hating, misogynistic. Here's one of the original images in your genealogy. It's from a meat company:

But you feature, today, the headless seductive chicken; as with sexist barbecue images, the headlessness is the best reminder--these bodies, they exist only for you.

The chickens I enjoy are alive. They live their lives without having to be seductive for human beings.

Perhaps you could visit an animal sanctuary near you and meet them.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Carrot Pecan Cornbread

Here's another great recipe from Shirley Wilkes-Johnson. 

In the weeks before her death, Shirley and I had been talking about what recipes a Vegan Barbecue Book should contain. Our vision for her cookbook had been that it represent all the cuisines found today in Texas. It seems that people prefer a regressive view of Texas--that it's all cowboys wearing leather cowboy boots and shooting it up (does Rick Perry come to mind?). People come from all over the world and settle in Texas. The main street of my city (Richardson), has Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Middle Eastern restaurants. It has a Whole Foods, a Chinese grocery store and an Indian grocery store. 

But, mainstream publishers with whom we talked over the past year, wanted us to focus on the traditional Texas fare. Shirley and I had lots of discussion about this, and finally decided that we'd begin with the Vegan Barbecue Book since we were about to be offered a book contract if we focused on this. 

The week she died, Shirley and I discussed which of her recipes would go in this reconfigured book. Shirley had developed four different cornbread recipes. This one was one of her--and my--favorites. Even people who don't like cornbread love this recipe! (I know; I have pushed the envelope on this several times.) There's something about the roasted pecans and the moist shredded carrots that makes this delectable. It's comfort food, from the kitchen of the Shirley Wilkes-Johnson. 

She wrote, "I created this recipe for Fiesta Culinary School inside the Fiesta Markets in Houston. Everyone loved this recipe. Cornbread has absolutely no need for eggs and milk, as this recipe will show.  Delicious!"

1   cup yellow corn meal
1   cup unbleached white flour 
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
4   teaspoons baking powder that does not contain aluminum (such as Rumford)
1   teaspoon salt
1 & 1/2 cups soy milk 
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans *

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a mixing bowl, combine corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Mix soy milk and oil together  and stir into cornmeal mixture.  Gently stir in carrots and pecans.  Pour into a cast iron 10” skillet (or muffin pan** or corn stick pan) that has been sprayed well with non stick spray.  Bake for 20-22 minutes.  

** Use a sprayed ice cream scooper to put batter into a sprayed muffin pan.  Makes 12 muffins.

* Bake pecans in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Amazon Makes Shoddy Books

Two copies of the same book? Well, you might think so, but being the author, I can tell immediately when Amazon has produced yet another shoddy book. See the one on the right? It's a different size; Jane Austen (bless her), looks a little different, and the font colors are slightly off. 

What happened?

A good friend of mine ordered 18 copies of this book from Amazon. She was going to to give them to the young people attending our Young Writers Workshop as part of the lead up to the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

When the books arrived, it was clear that Amazon had violated their contract with my publisher and produced some of the copies through their own print on demand resources. Apparently, it is common to have an agreement with publishers that they can produce copies of a book if it is out of stock. However, Amazon is apparently determining what being "out of stock" means in a very flexible, self-interested way. If they receive an order and they, Amazon, are out of stock of the book, they are producing their own rather than obtaining the book from the publisher's warehouse.

This happened last year, too, and I complained then. I thought it was a one-time deal, but it isn't. And it isn't just happening to this book. Other authors have complained as well.

Why does this matter? 

Well, for one, they are making shoddy reproductions. The cover, the paper, the size of the print. Here's the side view:

See the book on the right? It's thinner. It's Amazon's version of the book on the left. They use a different kind of paper and they glue the book together differently.

How many authors is this happening to?

If you order from Amazon, look at the back page. If the book is from an established publisher and yet it shows something like this, you have just bought a shoddy reproduction of the book you wanted, rather than the book itself:

Besides getting a poorer quality book, this matters for other reasons as well. Perhaps Amazon's Print-on-Demand business needs some propping up, I don't know. But, certainly this is one way to keep their own presses, er, copiers running. For established publishers, it is a problem because at the end of the year, publishers are taxed for the books they have in their warehouse. This creates pressure for them to "dump" some of the copies at a reduced rate. How many extra books do they have in their warehouses because Amazon produced their own copies? 

It's unfair to the publisher; it's unfair to the author; and because of their low quality, it's unfair to the reader. If you want to read a book in print, rather than an electronic version, you should be able to read the book as it exists in print, not Amazon's (faulty) reproduction.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another feminist rationalizing eating animals

Over at the University of Minnesota blog, Kathy Rudy, an asssociate professor of Women's Studies at Duke University, has posted a blog introducing some of her reasons for a writing a book on animal ethics. I don't know how much of the blog reproduces arguments in her book, but her blog benefits from mischaracterizations. As a feminist-vegan, I wanted to challenge the mischaracterizations. My response is apparently too long to be posted in whole at UMinn's blog site, so I have moved it here.

Kathy, your post helps me understand why, when Duke's Women's Studies Program devoted a year to the issue of Animals, it made such a studied pronouncement that distanced itself from earlier feminist writers on animals--earlier feminist writers who had advocated a vegan diet--and why they (we) were characterized as "essentialist" ecofeminists.

This also explains why, in a year-long study, none of your invited speakers were feminists who advocated veganism as part of their scholarship (Marti Kheel, Josephine Donovan, Lori Gruen, Greta Gaard, or myself, to name a few).

What confounds me though, is why any ethical issue is determined by whether it is "hard" or not. There are many days when it is "hard" to be a feminist, and to see the world as a feminist--does that stop any of us from maintaining a feminist consciousness? After all, it was my generation of feminist-vegans who pioneered the idea that oppressions are interlocking and difficult to see.

Like Ginny Messina, a dedicated nutritionist, I am sorry that your experience of veganism was difficult and had such side effects. But your characterization of the doctors associated with PCRM is a little unfair, and I wonder if you reached out to vegan nutritionists like Ginny. 

Yes, veganism can be done badly. But there are many wonderful people working to help educate the public about good vegan eating (whole foods, not Whole Foods). Vegans understand that none of us lives a pure life.

The goal of feminist-veganism is not to position ourselves as "eating well" in Derrida's terms, but as always struggling with the question of how do we do the least harm.

Your discussion of all the hidden animal ingredients that make it impossible to actually be a vegan mischaracterizes the vegan community and the ways we have addressed these issues for many years. (Even books like Animal Ingredients from A-Z" contains a foreword by Bruce Friedrich saying, "don't think you can eliminate everything.") This is really old news and a straw dog.

You say humans have been eating meat for thousands of years. Which humans? Not all societies ate meat at all. And in the Western world, it was actually mainly upper class humans and royalty who ate much meat at all. There has always been a politics to meat. And especially in the United States, where, as I argue, meat eating was democratized.

Earlier you mention subsidies--government subsidies of meat and dairy contribute to keeping their costs down. Only if you are eating a lot of vegan processed food are the costs great; beans, lentils, rice--these have always been the food of low income and poor people. As for turning back the clock and returning to small farms raising animals to be consumed, even writers like Michael Pollan admit that it is currently impossible to feed everyone from local not factory farmers.

Most people are perfectly happy eating vegan food--as long as they don't know that's what they are doing; this shows that the issue is more in the brain, and about assumptions about what is proper for them to eat (politics again) rather than about taste. I don't understand the pessimism that gives up on humanity and says they aren't going to change, before giving people a chance.

Your discussion of and justification for the locavore movement requires more space and time than is currently available. But let me ask, why do you assume all domesticated animals disappear if we don't eat them? You presume an equation between their current ontological status as edible and their existence. This seems to be a major flaw. We don't eat dogs or cats in the United States but there are plenty of them. There are many ways to be in relationships with animals.

Moreover, where does the locavore movement get their chickens? From institutional farming situations. Did you know that cows from organic farms are more likely to be killed earlier than cows in industrialized farming situation because the organic farmers don't want to use antibiotics to help them recover from illnesses; so if they get ill, they are dispatched to slaughter? As for that, if you look at the fat content of cow's milk versus the fat content of human mother's milk, it is very different. Why do you presume that it is even healthy to be consuming milk from cow's? (feminized protein as I have called it).

Finally, the feminist ethics of care has provided an alternative position to that of animal rights and animal liberation. We argue that one cannot love other animals, be in relationship with other animals, care for other animals, and then kill them and eat them. As Josephine Donovan argued in her classic Signs article on this subject in 1990, animals don't want to be eaten, and if we listen to them, they are telling us so.

It would have been interesting to have been in a dialogue with you about any of these things, but, oh, that's right--we represented the positions you were re-appropriating and massaging into... into this? Surely the new ecofeminism would at least discuss the environmental costs of meat eating and dairy production. Do we really need a muddled way, er, a middle way?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Living Among Meat Eaters

Living Among Meat Eaters is a very special book for me. I wrote it because I had done things wrong for so many years, and it was so liberating when I realized that and found a different way. I realized that people who aren't vegans or vegetarians need our interactions to be about us; as long as it is about us, what WE are doing, what WE believe, it doesn't have to be about them and what they are doing. They, who really do feel defensive, want us to be the ones who are on the defensive. So Living Among Meat Eaters proposes a way to reorient the dynamics. 

I really appreciate hearing from people who have been moved and touched by the book. The idea was to help people so they didn't have to spend as many years as I had coping with the meat eating world. I want us to thrive! While the book is directed toward vegetarians and vegans, it presumes veganism, and all the recipes I provide are vegan.

So I was heartened this week to get this email from Ruth in Perth, Australia:

Dear Carol,

I'm sure you hear this a lot but I had to write and say a very warm thank you for your book "Living Amongst Meat Eaters". 

After being a vegetarian for five years I was ridiculed for making this small but important step in ethical eating. The questions "but you eat eggs" and "what about the leather you're wearing" were constant attempts to berate what I was doing. But they also stimulated me to think deeper; what about the leather I was wearing... After pondering veganism for about a year I finally worked up the courage to watch a few small videos on you tube (meet your meat and one about bobby calves, then Earthlings) I made the jump and wish I had done it sooner.

What I wasn't prepared for was the feeling of total elation; for finally having my lifestyle choices in line with my ethics, being aligned with a sense of total isolation. I was making a massive lifestyle choice that not only went against that of my friends and family, but of the majority of the world. Still, because you are doing something that is compassionate, it gives you the strength to pursue it and be proud of it. 

But when I saw your book in the one-and-only vegan outlet I am aware of in Perth, Western Australia, the title completely spoke to me. They had ordered in about ten copies - obviously anticipating the demand. I flicked through it and read half in the first night, only stopping so that I could get a notepad and re-read the whole book, this time taking notes.

Your book is exactly what I needed and I'm sure, what hundreds of thousands of people have been waiting for. We all know the reasons why we are doing it, but when faced with ridicule and scorn, it can be hard to express all the positivity of veganism without becoming defensive. Your point (or referencing someone else's point) about us all having a hole in our conscience, where we love animals but feel slightly guilty about eating them - resonated within me. This will help me immensely when I speak to my friends and family because I know that they, like me, have the same doubts about what they are doing, they just haven't taken the jump yet. I will now look upon everyone I meet as a blocked vegetarian and try my best to portray my lifestyle exactly how it feels; with ease, calm and happiness because I am at complete peace with the choices I am making.

Thank you so much! I can't wait to read your other titles.

That's one thing about books--they are a gift that keep on giving: first to the writer as she crystallizes what she wants to say, and learns from the process of writing how to say it; then, if the writer has been successful, the book goes out into the world touching people while the writer stays at home wondering what her book is getting up to!

Here's a link to the publisher's website for Living Among Meat Eaters:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Cajun Eggless Salad and Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

This sandwich is vegan leftover heaven. It's made from Cajun eggless salad and sweet and sour red cabbage. While Reuben sandwiches combine tempeh and sauerkraut, and Texas bbq sandwiches add cole slaw to barbecued tofu, here I took two separate recipes from Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, and added just a little melted Daiya cheese. I love leftovers because they challenge us to be creative!

A friend recently asked for some tofu recipes.  Everyone needs a favorite eggless egg salad recipe and Shirley came up with a fantastic recipe. Shirley didn't just use this in sandwiches! It can be an appetizer with crackers or served stuffed in jumbo pasta shells, cooked and chilled, and arranged on a deviled egg plate. Have fun with it! Did I say it's quick? It is. 

Cajun Style Eggless Salad
Serves 6

1   pound hard style tofu, drained, rinsed and dried well
2   tablespoons yellow nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon curry
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2   green onions, sliced thinly
2   tablespoons finely chopped red pepper
2   tablespoons sliced pimento olives
1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise, more if desired
2   tablespoons yellow salad mustard
1   tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, optional

     Crumble tofu into a bowl.  Add rest of ingredients except paprika and mix it with a fork until it is the consistency of deviled egg salad.  Sprinkle paprika over top.


Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

About this recipe, Shirley wrote, "Antioxidant polyphenols abundant in red cabbage have a protective benefit of brain cells suggests a study published in Food Science and Technology.  This simple recipe is a delicious way to protect your heart, brain, prevent cancer and promote good digestion.   It is nice served with just a dollop of vegan sour cream on top before serving, if desired."  

1  head of red cabbage
2  tablespoons vegan butter
1  cup chopped onions
1  apple peeled, cored and chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
1  tablespoon Tamari
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1.  Cut cabbage into half.  (I love that a halved cabbage looks like a tree with graceful limbs.) 
Remove core and very coarsely chop cabbage.

2.  Melt butter in a pot large enough to hold the cabbage.  Add cabbage, onions and apple.  Saute over medium high heat for about 5 minutes.

3.  Add sugar and toss to coat.  Stir in vinegar, Tamari, salt and pepper.  Cover and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

It’s Vegan Y’all: End of August Feast

My friend Pat was back from Croatia and coming for supper.

The challenge--use as little oil as possible, have it be colorful and no shopping! (I was trying to meet a deadline.) So, what foods did I already have from the refrigerator, pantry, or the Texas-heat wilted garden?

I found canned and fresh tomatoes, red peppers, basil, canned beans, kale, cabbage, tofu, and some sweet potatoes desperately needing to be used. 

I made: lazy gazpacho (using canned tomatoes, but without cucumbers since there were none in the house), Cajun eggless salad, sweet and sour cabbage (not cole slaw since I was using Vegenaise in the eggless salad), three bean salad (I had to borrow green beans from Holly the collie's jar in the refrigerator),  raw kale salad with roasted peanuts (the recipe called for pinenuts but I had used them up last week), sweet potatoes with hoisin sauce, and some quickly-broiled slices of whole grain sandwich rounds (with a little nutritional yeast sprinkled on top). Those sandwich rounds I had been ignoring in the refrigerator for weeks.

And here’s what it looked like:

Of course, a couple of recipes were from Shirley Wilkes-Johnson. I'll post them separately. 

The key to being a vegan, truly, is knowing what to stock in your pantry and your refrigerator. Once you've got a well-stocked kitchen, food preparation is easy and fun, and the result is both tasty and beautiful. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jane Austen Sightings: A Series of Unfortunate ...

Perhaps it's so obvious, dear friends, that years ago it was discussed to death (that would be unfortunate). What is the biggest literary allusion in a series of books for children that contain numerous literary allusions? A series of unfortunate... 

We know Lemony Snicket peppers his books, from a bad beginning to the very end, with references to classic books.

Of course, Jane Austen has to be in the mix! Not just in the mix, but hovering over every book cover, every unfortunate event. Here is Colonel Brandon, in Sense and Sensibility, alluding to some most unfortunate circumstances:

"I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister, who thought and judged like her, but who from an enforced change -- from a series of unfortunate circumstances" ---- Here he stopt suddenly; appeared to think that he had said too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures which might not otherwise have entered Elinor's head. The lady would probably have passed without suspicion, had he not convinced Miss Dashwood that what concerned her ought not to escape his lips. As it was, it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his emotion with the tender recollection of past regard. Elinor attempted no more. But Marianne, in her place, would not have done so little. The whole story would have been speedily formed under her active imagination; and every thing established in the most melancholy order of disastrous love.

You can find it in volume 1, chapter 11. But the story of his lost love, Eliza, awaits you later in the novel (volume II, chapter 9).

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Confetti Slaw

Oh my, this isn't just a delicious recipe, it's a beautiful one. Shirley knew that many coleslaw recipes call for lots of sugar but this one doesn’t need it.  Shirley served it in barbecued sandwiches.  As Shirley said,  "This is similar to what my mother used to make when I was a kid.  It was good then and even better now.  It is a refreshing salad." Maybe the weather is going to break down here in Texas, finally, but we'll still need refreshing food. So why not triple the recipe, as I did for this photo!

Confetti Slaw
Serves 6 - 8

6 - 8 cups shredded green cabbage (approximately)
1   cup shredded carrots (approximately)
1   large organic red apple, diced
1/4 cup dried cherries or golden raisins or both
4   green onions, thinly sliced
1   cup vegan mayonnaise such as Vegenaise
1   tablespoon fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
2   tablespoons vegan sugar
1   teaspoon dry tarragon flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  In a large salad bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, apples, cherries and onions.

2.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together tofu salad dressing, vinegar, sugar, tarragon and salt.  Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss.  Chill before serving, if possible.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jane Austen Sightings: Piano Playing

My son, Ben, a piano player, gets credit for the latest Jane Austen sighting. He is reading What Every Pianist Needs to Know about the Body. And, just barely into the book (page 2 to be precise), he finds two references to Jane Austen novels.

The authors, Thomas Mark, Roberta Gary, and Thom Miles, are discussing "Finger Orientation." They write, "Ironically, one of the most obvious facts about piano playing has also been an obstacle to understanding." The obvious fact? "We play the piano with our fingers." Well, I'll let them explain:

"The spectacle of a pianist's fingers at work has enthralled audiences throughout the history of the piano. An early example, the more telling since it comes from a novel, not a method book, is in Jane Austen's Persuasion, published in 1818. As Anne Eliot plays the piano, Mrs. Musgrove exclaims, 'Well done, Miss Anne!... Lord bless me! how those little fingers of yours fly about!'" (This is found in Book I, Chapter 6.)

Because the movement of the fingers is so obvious, but the movement of other parts of the body more subtle, "people have tended to conclude that the fingers do most of the work of piano playing." This causes the authors to think of Jane Austen. Her writings, they assert, reflect this assumption about the fingers doing the majority of the work. This time, the authors turn to Pride and Prejudice, specifically Elizabeth's response to Darcy about what practising involves. (Of course, her response is referring to more than piano practice.)

Elizabeth says, "My fingers ... do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault--because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution". (Volume 2, chapter 8.)

Their book will go on to argue against a finger-oriented approach to piano playing, drawing on principles of the Alexander technique. So, for them, Jane Austen provides negative examples of what it means to focus on fingers as the primary means for creating music. But, still, I love that at least one of these co-authors reads Jane Austen!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake

Rick Perry may be gobbling up some Texas-sized attention these days, but we Texas vegans have something he just can't imagine. We've got the legacy of Shirley Wilkes-Johnson's decades-long project to create the best darn vegan recipes this side of the Rio Grande. Perry needs to posture, and those 22 pairs of cowboy boots he's been given don't seem to be helping him these days (supposedly he has resorted to some much more comfortable black tennis shoes). But, hey, even though Shirley died before we could get a picture of the two of us in our vegan cowboy boots, all is not lost. For more than two years Shirley and I worked on identifying her best of the best recipes. This blog inaugurates my posting of these recipes with the permission of her right hand man, friend, partner, and creative cook, himself, Ben Johnson.

As I said in my remembrance of her, Shirley never met a recipe she couldn't veganize. Her instincts and taste were exquisite. She wanted to create down home, stick-to-your-ribs, traditional and contemporary Texas recipes. I miss her, especially on Mondays, the day we used to talk about vegan cooking and her recipes. But her legacy is secure, and we've got some gobbling, chewing, tasting, and enjoying to do! Bring your Texas-size appetites because it's vegan, y'all.

Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake

Shirley called this “a rather decadent old fashioned recipe.” Shirley always used Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread for the margarine. Many concerns have been raised about where Earth Balance gets its palm oil. Shirley consulted Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Colleen concluded that if you buy organic Earth Balance you are supporting sustainable farming practices that are not destroying the habitats of Orangutans.

Shirley recommends using a jelly roll pan, which is approximately 10x15-inches with 1-inch sides. It’s like a large cookie sheet. I went out and purchased one just to make this cake. Shirley says you can use a 9 x 13-inch pan, but the cake will be thicker. I think the jelly roll pan is the way to go. It makes the cake just the right thickness. One morning this summer, I made three cakes for a family celebration. EVERYONE loved it (even those who didn’t think they would). But how could they not? It’s a recipe from Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, and it’s vegan y’all.

1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup vegan margarine
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1  cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla

Chocolate Pecan Icing (see below)

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 10x15 inch jelly roll pan.  (Shirley used PAM spray; I use Spectrum spray.)
2. In a mixing cup, combine the soy milk and the apple cider vinegar, and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking soda and mix well; set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan, mix together margarine, cocoa, and water. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring often. Pour over flour and sugar mixture. Add vanilla to the soymilk and vinegar mixture, and then whisk into other ingredients. Turn batter into prepared pan.
3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately frost top of hot cake with Chocolate Pecan Icing. Usually, you wait until a cake cools before icing it - but not in this recipe.
Let cool then cut into squares.

Chocolate Pecan Icing:

1/2 cup vegan margarine softened
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/3 cup soy milk 

1 (1-lb.) powdered sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, beat together margarine, cocoa, and soy milk with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes - or you can use a food processor. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat on high speed until well blended. Stir in pecans.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Barbara Pym and Jane Austen's desk

On August 11, 1943, Barbara Pym visited Jane Austen's house. Here is what she recorded:

"Visit to Jane Austen's house... I put my hand down on Jane's desk and bring it up covered with dust. Oh that some of her genius might rub off on me! One would have imagined the devoted female custodian going round with her duster at least every other day."

It seems to me that Barbara Pym got her wish!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jane Austen Sightings

I have noticed recently, how many references to Jane Austen appear, not in books ON Jane Austen, herself, but just in passing, in novels and nonfiction. I have decided to call these "Jane Austen Sightings." Here's the first one:

David Shields in Reality Hunger: A Manifesto observes:

#254. The person who loses the presidential election is the person who seems most fictional. In 2000, Gore simply was Mr. Knightley from Emma. So, too, in 2004, Kerry--Lord Bertram from Mansfield Park. During the 2008 presidential election, reality hunger in the face of nonstop propaganda resulted in regime change. Obama won because of his seeming commitment to reality, the common sense of his positions." (p. 86)

Really, Al Gore as Mr. Knightley?

Global Warming: Badly Done!
War in Iraq: Badly Done, Indeed!
"I will tell you truths while I can."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Dairy Council Is Wrong: Let me tell you the ways

Let's begin with the obvious: A new campaign for cow's milk is misogynistic, as it pictures an unfortunate, beleaguered, cowering white man holding milk. Since the brand isn't given we could imagine it was soy milk or hemp milk, but clearly the dairy industry wants us to believe this poor guy is holding cow's milk.

Why is he cowering? Why is he beleaguered? Because a woman has PMS.

The website that accompanies this p.r. campaign reinforces the misogyny, implying that all men share this need to defend themselves from the moods women experience because of raging hormones.

All this to promote a product that actually helps deplete calcium from women's bones rather than strengthening them. And contributes to the ongoing medicalization of women's lives. If you want calcium, you'd be better off turning to kale and other leafy greens.

Perhaps, the Dairy Council is getting desperate. As more and more people learn through books like Whitewash just how cow's milk is obtained, learn of the terrible lives cows endure to produce what I have called "feminized protein," they are rejecting cow's milk. The Dairy Council must know at this point that with so many wonderful alternatives in local grocery stores, more people are asking, "why are we still enslaving female animals to be our wet nurses?" Mercy for Animals shows us what cows endure for a product we don't need:

The question is "Got Soy Milk?" "Got Almond Milk?"

Dairy Industry--I am listening to what you are saying and what you are meaning. Yours is a dangerous campaign, built on stereotypes about women, requiring the imprisonment and suffering of other animals, offering misleading information about sources of calcium, and promoting a product that many women of color can not digest because of lactose intolerance.

You'll probably say my response shows I don't have a sense of humor. That's another way you're wrong; I just don't have your sense of humor.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Five myths about vegans

Though former president Bill Clinton isn’t technically a vegan, his embrace last year of a “plant-based” diet with “no meat” and “no dairy” — and his accompanying 24-pound weight loss — made headlines for a small but growing movement. After all, only 3.2 percent of Americans are vegetarian, and just .5 percent fly the vegan flag, eschewing all animal products and byproducts in their kitchens and closets.

But is veganism healthy? Emasculating? Difficult? Let’s get the skinny on this unusual lifestyle.

1. Vegans have trouble getting enough protein.

“Where do you get your protein?” is probably the top question vegans get. But protein doesn’t have to come from animals. Plant protein is neither incomplete nor inadequate — and it’s high-fiber, low-fat and cholesterol-free. Animal protein, which does not contain fiber, is high in fat and cholesterol, and it is associated with increased risk of heart disease, loss of calcium from bones and poorer kidney function.

Nutritionists agree that adults who consume about 2,000 calories per day should get about 50 grams of protein. What’s a vegan to do? Well, a half-cup of chickpeas contains 6 grams of protein. A half-cup of firm tofu contains 20 grams. A veggie burger has about 15 grams. We can get to 50 grams pretty quickly without meatloaf or bacon.

Any vegan diet that includes a variety of plant foods provides all the protein an individual needs. This is true for adults, teens and, according to pediatrician Benjamin Spock, even children. As nutritionists Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina explain in “Becoming Vegan,” the answer to that often-asked question is: “from all of the whole plants I eat.”

2. Vegans have countless rules about what can be eaten.

To vegans, it appears that meat-eaters are the ones with lots of rules. In the United States, people eat cows but not horses, and chickens but not cats. But among Hindus in India, cows are verboten, and in the Philippines and Korea, Lassie is on the menu. Some religions forbid eating pigs, while others don’t. In the face of these varying, often contradictory norms, vegans have only one rule: We don’t intentionally eat, use or wear anything from an animal — whether meat, leather, eggs, milk, wool, silk or honey.

If veganism seems to need an instruction manual, it’s because dead animals turn up in unexpected places. Most marshmallows contain gelatin, derived from animal bones. So do gelcaps and photographic film. Hostess fruit pies (but not Little Debbie’s) are made with beef fat. Dryer sheets have animal fat, too. Toothpaste may contain bone meal. And shampoo may have egg protein.

Sure, the list seems to go on and on. But at your chain supermarket, more products than ever are vegan-friendly. In 2011, it’s not hard to live up to veganism’s one simple ideal: trying to do the least harm possible.

3. Veganism is emasculating — real men eat meat.

In 1990, I wrote a book called “The Sexual Politics of Meat” to dissect the idea that eating animal flesh makes someone strong and virile. The myth gained steam in the 1960s when anthropologists Desmond Morris and Robert Ardrey attributed the advancement of civilization to “man the hunter.” Today, cultural messages — from Burger King’s “I am Man” ad campaign to a Hummer commercial implying that a guy who buys tofu must “restore the balance” by buying a huge car — reinforce this myth. Even Michael Pollan, who details a boar hunt in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” falls prey to the idea that men must fell prey: “Walking with a loaded rifle in an unfamiliar forest bristling with the signs of your prey is thrilling.” For vegans, this cartoonish hunter porn is ridiculous. What Pollan sees as a dilemma, we welcome as a decision.

But if real men once ate meat, it’s not so any longer. Olympic track legend (and New Jersey state Senate hopeful) Carl Lewis is a vegan. Former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson is a vegan. Outkast’s Andre 3000 is a vegan. In Austin, a group of firefighters went vegan. But beyond the famous names who have embraced veganism for ethical or health reasons is the incontrovertible fact that eating meat doesn’t increase libido or fertility — and a vegan diet doesn’t diminish them.

4. Vegans care more about animals than humans.

Veganism is a social-justice movement that includes concern for animals but also many issues that affect humans. The food choices vegans make address the environmental costs of meat and dairy production, heart disease, public health crises tied to obesity, and, as Eric Schlosser pointed out in “Fast Food Nation,” poor conditions in slaughterhouses, where workers suffer more injuries than in any other industry. In fact, eating vegan one day a week lowers your carbon footprint more than eating local every day of the week.

The economic cost of systemic animal cruelty transcends shocking undercover footage taken at factory farms. Eating grain-fed cattle helps push corn prices up; high prices contributed to 2008’s food riots in Haiti, Bangladesh, Egypt and elsewhere around the world. Industrialized meat production allows infectious bacteria such as salmonella to sneak into our food supply. And treating a generation raised on cheap Big Macs will prove a fiscal challenge to Medicaid.

Caring about animals means caring about people, too.

5. It’s expensive and inconvenient to be a vegan.

Try veganism for a day and see what happens. Is it so difficult to substitute marinara sauce for meat sauce? To get a pizza loaded with veggies instead of cheese and meat? To fix a big salad and add garbanzo beans to it instead of turkey? To order a vegan dish at any of the ethnic restaurants rich with vegan foods — Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Italian?

One reason Patti Breitman and I wrote “How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One” was to show people how easy it is to be a vegan. If you’re used to a steady diet of beef, chicken and pork, veganism can expand your options. You’ll start discovering the variety of ways to prepare tofu, seitan, tempeh and textured vegetable protein — along with more greens, grains and beans. In some parts of the country, some of these products might be harder to find than hamburger patties or sirloin steak, but they’re not necessarily more expensive. And if they are, they may save medical costs in the long run.

Non-vegans think change is hard. Not changing is even harder.

Originally published in The Washington Post, April 18, 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

“She loved deeply and well; she believed in justice and worked for it; and she widened the circle of compassion wherever she went.”

Muriel Kathryn Stang Adams
August 2, 1914 - December 12, 2009

As we celebrate Mother's Day this year, I am thankful for so many women who helped to improve the lives of women through their work as activists and thinkers, advocates and politicians, writers and protesters. Among this group, I include my mother. She died a little more than a year ago, and her life (and death) remain close to my heart.

My mother grew up in a Norwegian immigrant community in Minnesota. During World War II, she worked with the Red Cross in Hawaii and there met my father. After helping to put him through law school, they settled in Western New York and raised three girls there. Mom and Dad brought us up believing girls were just as smart and able as boys.

During the 1960s my mother heard about the migrant workers who traveled to Western New York to help harvest our crops. The migrant workers and their families often lived in desperate situations. The Ruths and Naomis, the Juans and Jésus who gathered around our county’s threshing floors would often have to sleep at night in shelter that made few feel welcome.

Mom joined with professors and ministers and other concerned folk to move mountains, to make a way clear, to create hospitality. At times, she was a one-woman dynamo, working to improve the conditions of migrant workers.

On one occasion, Mom and a physics professor went to the migrant camp of one of the large growers in our county. Each spring, the farmer brought about thirty-five men up from Puerto Rico to help him plant tomatoes and vegetables.

In the summer, he would add more men to help with the picking.

By the fall, when the grapes had to be picked, he had about eighty-five men in his lodging. The rooms that housed the men were each about 8 by 10 feet, with double bunks.  The little stove they had to cook on was an open gas flame burner.

The cook slept on one of the bunks in the second tier, and had hung a blanket from the ceiling to keep the light from the open gas burner out of his eyes. The blanket was suspended far too close to the open flame of the stove.

When Mom saw this fire trap she was outraged. When she got home, she reported the problem to the gas company. The gas company came and replaced the open stove with vent pipes and an enclosed heater.

The farmer was really angry about that because the gas company immediately sent him the bill. The next time the farmer saw the physics professor he referred to my father who was the farmer’s lawyer. The farmer complained,  “Lee Towne Adams, he’s such a good lawyer, if he could only control his wife.”

“Control your wife.” There probably could not be any more ill-fitting words for my Mom – untethered and unleashed was what her spirit was all about.

Mom and the physics professor went to meet with the      Chautauqua County       Department of Health about why it wasn’t enforcing the health department codes in the migrant camps. The health department man -- not knowing to whom he was speaking -- said, “we try to (enforce the codes), and then the farmers hire Lee Towne Adams and he gets them off.”

Well, that was the last time my father helped a farmer “get off.”

I actually met Bruce, my spouse, and the Executive Director of The Stewpot here in Dallas, through my Mom. The group that helped the migrants workers was the Chautauqua County Rural Ministry. And back in the 1960s, my Mom was one of the people who founded it. Newly ordained, Bruce arrived in the area in 1976. It wasn’t long before he became involved with the group, started working with Mom, and, that is how Bruce and I met.

At Mom’s funeral, Bruce talked about Mom’s years of advocating for migrant workers. After the funeral, a couple came up to him. They had been farmers in the 1960s and provided living arrangements on their farm for several migrant workers. They told Bruce, whenever they saw my mother drive in to see the migrant workers, they held their breath.

Before my mother died, my father, sisters and I looked over her obituary. I had written it several years earlier, when I knew her Alzheimer’s was progressing. They all liked it. But I felt something was missing.  Yes, it discussed her social justice work. But, something, well, I just knew there was something more to say. I asked myself: how do you ever summarize a life? I thought of the arc of Mom’s life--beginning in Minnesota, heading west to Hawaii, and ending up in Western New York. I thought of how much love she had given to so many, and how lucky I was to be her daughter. And I wrote, “She loved deeply and well; she believed in justice and worked for it; and she widened the circle of compassion wherever she went.” This sentence I inserted into the obituary, and knew it was complete. With that, I went into the room where she was dying to thank her for all she had done and all she had given us.

She died the next day. The following day her obituary ran in the local papers. During the calling at the funeral home, a woman came to talk with me. She had no idea I was the author of the obituary. But she started to talk about it. She told me how much she loved learning about my mother through the obituary. And then the woman’s eyes teared up and she quoted word for word what I had added: “She loved deeply and well; she believed in justice and worked for it; and she widened the circle of compassion wherever she went.”

She said, I hope that can be said when I die!

It’s a good goal to have.

Originally published by StreetZine, March 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Remembering Shirley Wilkes-Johnson

A tomato bread bowl holding a festive salad. One of Shirley Wilkes-Johnson's original recipes.
Tonight, as we approach what would have been her 74th birthday, I remember Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, who died on Saturday. As we await a public celebration of her life this Saturday in Houston, I want to take a moment to remember.

For those who didn’t know her and her marvelous vegan activism, she was one of the producers and hosts of Vegan World Radio on  Pacifica's  KPFT 90.1 FM in Houston (since 2002).  She taught vegan cooking classes in the Houston area for many years.  She traveled around Texas speaking on “Vegetarian Roots: The Fascinating and Little Known History of Vegetarianism.”  She was co-founder and director for 13 years of the Lone Star Vegetarian Network. They have sponsored a statewide vegan chili cook off for twenty-two years.   She was co-founder and director for seven years of the South Texas Vegetarian Society in Brazoria County.

I first met Shirley and her wonderful husband Ben in 1991. I was one of the dinner speakers at an event sponsored by the Fund for Animals (now a part of the Humane Society). The vegan meal was fantastic. I never thought a Dallas hotel, unfamiliar with serving vegan food for several hundred people, could have done such a great job. But it turned out that sitting at my table was the reason the hotel pulled it off: Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, vegan chef extraordinaire. She never met a recipe she couldn’t veganize, or a hotel catering staff she couldn’t teach. I knew I had so much to learn from her.

During these years, Shirley offered vegan cooking classes in the Houston area. Lucky me! She sent me copies of the recipes as she developed them. I have a three-ring binder filled with her incredibly sophisticated, easily accessible, creative, tasty recipes from the decade of the 90s.

I learned to make her tofu feta cheese recipe around 1993. It became the basic component in our versions of spanokopita and tiropetes (baked phyllo triangles filled with tofu feta cheese). Every time I made tiropetes, my elementary son took at least six to school with him for his lunch. That thrilled me. Then he asked me to pack even more into his lunchbox. This made me curious; he had never struck me as having that great an appetite. It turned out all of his classmates loved them so much he was sharing them during lunch. That’s Shirley’s influence—share wonderful vegan food.

Over the years Shirley taught classes on Mexican cooking (with “Tamales de chorizo,” tofu flautas, pozole rojo, and enchiladas vegetarianos), Indian cooking (with Saag tofu), and many other themes. When Ladies Home Journal featured an article on “100 Sandwich Stars,”  she made them over: Barbara Bush’s was no longer “The First Lady” but “The Kind and Gentle First Lady” (using mock lobster instead of dead lobster). The John Goodman was transformed from “The Big Guy,” to the “Big Nice Guy,” and featured a vegetarian sloppy joe. Cher’s “forever fit” became “forever fit and compassionate.”  You get the idea.

My sons didn’t eat as much veggies as they might have; Shirley sent me a recipe for Spinach Bread. In her notes she wrote, “You don’t have to mention it has spinach in it—it doesn’t taste like it.” Believe me, I didn’t.

Meanwhile, she and Ben were yearly taking home prizes for their chili at the Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cookoff.

At some point, Shirley told me she was hoping to do a vegan cookbook some day. This is before “vegan” was, in a sense, on the map. I offered to help however I could.

After 9/11, she began teaching 'Celebrate the World' Classes to help teach love and respect of other cultures. She had celebrated world cuisines when her children were growing up, too.

Last Monday, Shirley sent me answers to a survey Patti Breitman and I are doing for a book on what vegans eat. We asked her to identify “The best meal I ever prepared for anyone else.” Answering this question must have been really tough for Shirley!  But she sent me this wonderful answer, which in a paragraph sums up Shirley, the excellent chef and teacher, the loving and challenging parent, and the person who recognized everyone in the world as her neighbor. She had first done the “Celebrate the World Classes” for her children: “About once a month, I would prepare a meal from another country and no one was allowed at the table unless they could discuss the people and the country.  It was before computers so they had to read in the encyclopedia.  They complained about having to study before they ate until they grew up and then they told me how much they appreciate that I did it.  My son says that is what gave him the wanderlust he has now as a world traveler.”

Sometime after the tenth anniversary edition of The Sexual Politics of Meat (2000) came out, Shirley interviewed me for Vegan World Radio. I asked how the cookbook was coming; she still wanted to do it, but she had lots of commitments to meet first.

Then, in 2008, she hosted a show that included Patti and myself discussing our first book together, How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One. Shirley was her inimical self. Afterwards, when Patti and I were talking, I told her about Shirley’s incredible recipes. “Offer to help her again,” Patti said.

This time, Shirley said, yes.

For almost a year, in 2009-2010, Shirley and I talked every Monday at 3 p.m. “Well hi there,” she would greet me, in her Texan accent. And we were off: discussing garfava flour and seitan, vegan omelets and salads, desserts galore and main dishes that floored me. I, so lucky, would open my email in the morning and there would be another recipe to read, cook, and plug into the rather massive file that was becoming the book. She was prodigiously creative, and soon we had more than two hundred recipes.    

That book was still in process at her death.

Shirley told us, “I believe that creating a vegan world is the most important social justice change in the history of this planet. Vegan activists are kindred souls to the abolitionists who worked to end slavery. I think that meat eating is the foundation of violence on this planet. Like Alex Hershaft, founder of FARM told me in an interview, I too can never stop being an activist until the world goes vegan or until I die - whichever comes first.”

And this is where she has left us. About her death on Saturday something must be said. I heard this directly from Ben, Shirley’s husband, and he has authorized me to share this. Shirley’s death was caused by a major stroke. The cause of the stroke was a congenitally malformed blood vessel in the brain. As Ben shared the news with me, he said, “While this blood vessel might have given way at any point in her life, it appears that her vegan diet kept her alive and healthy for this length of time.” I am grateful she was among us for as long as she was.

For those who haven’t yet become vegan, Shirley offers a rather profound insight, in answer to the question: “What have you learned about eating as a vegan that you wish you had known earlier?”

She said, “I wish I had known that it is harder to make the decision to give up cheese than it is to actually give it up.  Once you understand, it is easy to do without meat, dairy and eggs, fish, etc. and then you wonder how in the world you ever liked those things.”

One last question was, “Is there something about being a healthy vegan you want others to be sure to know?”

Shirley’s answer: “It absolutely cannot be healthy to eat misery.”

Shirley Wilkes-Johnson believed people could change and good vegan cooking helps! Her taste was impeccable; her love unbounded.

Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, my hero.

It is up to us to keep up her work, her love, her passion, her vision. Cook a great vegan meal and toast her. She would have loved that. And pass the vegan word on.