Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Heart Vegan Food!

On my "bucket list" of life: do a road trip around America. I have fantasized of a sabbatical to explore the country. When I said I should take a year off like that Eat, Pray, Love author, my sister said I'd make it as far as Woodstock, New York. Um, that's two hours away!

Right now, I'm living vicariously through the Just Eats Tour with Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, and his crew, who are on road trip exploring vegan food and exposing our factory farming system most Americans choose not to think about. Why would we not want to think about what's going in our bodies or how farm animals are suffering in horrible conditions, yet we love our cats and dogs!

Gene's book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, was one of the sources that got me very interested in vegan living, and I've visited their shelter in Watkins Glen, New York, where I stayed at one of their bed and breakfast cabins.

My advice to people intimidated by "vegan": don't get caught up in signing up to be a "fill in the blank" label (vegan, vegetarian, anything). It's not all or nothing. I don't worry about being perfect and making ideal choices always. The goal is to be conscious of what you are eating, who it is impacting (animals, workers, people who live in the communities), and the planet.

While Gene and co. are exploring vegan eats crossing the country, I enjoy eating vegan food often in New York City's Hell's Kitchen (where I work), at home (doing easy swap outs like almond or rice "milk" instead of dairy), and in New Jersey where I live. Not featured here but are worth mentioning are two of my favorites in Rutherford, New Jersey, Sweet Avenue Bake Shop, an all vegan bakery, and Rutherford Pancake House with a great vegan section of the menu from tofu scrambles to vegan sliders.

To answer the question, "But what do you eat?" when eating vegan, and to debunk the myth vegan food is about deprivation, here is some vegan food I've enjoyed over the past few months that is proof that it's anything but.

Before heading into work, I picked up a vegan cranberry orange muffin, $2 (vegan blueberry also available), from the Thursday farmers market at Port Authority Bus Terminal. Check out vegan baking tips from Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale. With Earl Grey tea with soy milk, on thrifted plates in my cubicle. An Edward Hopper image overlooks to the scene.

Go lightly tip: stock your office kitchen with secondhand plates, glasses and silverware to allow colleagues to reduce their impact.

In Hell's Kitchen...

Grilled tofu tacos at Blockheads, with rice and black beans, $9.50. They even have tofu sour cream here! Sit outside on their cheerful patio, which I did at a happy hour with some friends.

I was treated to lunch by a colleague at Vinyl (there's also a Chelsea location). The lemongrass tofu wrap filled with jasmine rice and Chinese broccoli, which comes with their homemade chips, $9.95. Washed down with pineapple juice, $3.

At Chili Thai, the Massaman Curry: a thai-muslim influenced curry with potatoes, onions, and peanuts in coconut milk with tofu, served with a spring roll, $8.50. This came with a cup of vegetable soup as well.

Mocha soy soft serve with vegan chocolate brownie topping, $4, at Kyotofu. Two flavors monthly.

Sit by the window and watch New York City life go by. I reflect how much Hell's Kitchen has changed. Look at the New York City taxi in the window. Did you know the New York City's Taxi of Tomorrow is a Nissan minivan made in Mexico? I know!

Vegan burger at Mother Burger, $7.95, a blend of toasted bulghur wheat, carrot, chick peas, onion, sautéed red and green pepper, tahini and spices.

The New York Times said this of veggie burgers,

"Veggie burgers haven't merely become good. They have exploded into countless variations of good, and in doing so they’ve begun to look like a bellwether for the American appetite."

In supermarkets, I favor the BOCA Burger brand. I've found many chains like Friendly's, Applebee's and even Charlie Brown's Steakhouse offer a veggie burger (sometimes in fine print, other times you just have to ask). Knowing whether or not they are vegan can be tricky, but I like Kathy Freston's advice about not worrying about minimal amounts of animal products when trying to eliminate or reduce them in your diet. Unless you make all of your own food from scratch, it's hard to know all the time what's in your food.

Office eats...

We get treated to pizza and salad Wednesday, and one of my favorite slices is the pizza marinara with olives and capers (ordered from Uncle Mario's). This always brings me back to Italy where pizza marinara is everywhere on the menu. I had a similar pizza just outside of Venice.

At a weekly tea time, I brought in vegan apple strudel from Trader Joe's, $2.99 for a box of two. No wonder Maria in The Sound of Music declared crisp apple strudel one of her favorite things!

Check out the Trader Joe's vegan product list.

At Hummus Kitchen, vegetarian couscous with a choice of one side (had to choose their creamy hummus), $9.50. It also came with a vegetable soup. I paired this with a refreshing glass of pomegranate lemonade with fresh mint leaves. Can't make it back to Morocco, but this is close enough for now.

At a friend's birthday dinner at Zen Palate, the Mango Halo: mangos, cherry tomatoes, gingko nuts, snow peas and soy nuggets in a sweet kung pao sauce, with taro spring rolls and brown and red rice, $11.95.

Zen Palate's vegan key lime pie, $4.50. So airy and refreshing!

In New Jersey...

At Pancho's Burritos in New Milford, the sauteed spinach enchiladas with soy cheese and tofu sour cream with pinto beans and Spanish rice, $11. Beans are one of my favorite protein sources, and are great for at-home cooking since they are inexpensive and widely available.

At home...

A meatless meatball sandwich with Trader Joe's vegan meatballs. Topped with fresh basil from the garden.

A V-BLT: Lightlife vegan Smart Bacon, lettuce, tomato on multi-grain bread with Nayonaise (find it in the natural food section of supermarkets, Whole Foods or check your local health food store).

Lightlife Smart Dogs. At just 45 calories per dog, you can have two!

And of course, duh, all the fruits and vegetables you want! Strawberries from Old Hook Farm in Emerson.

Find vegan eateries near you through

Note that all of the photos (save for Zen Palate) were from non-vegan, non-vegetarian eateries. Vegan food is just showing up everywhere for good reason: it's humane for the animals, healthier for our hearts without all those saturated animal fats, and good for our Earth (would you want to live next to a factory farm? Me neither!)

I do think, personally, Americans seem to have too many animal products in their diet and do people really need meat at every meal? What are the costs of raising all these animals at the cheapest prices available?

Why are we so focused on protein, and not on fiber or vitamins? I often wonder when I hear people complaining about carbs why eating factory farmed meat is okay (one person I know told me they choose not to think about that). Spaghetti, no, drugged up, overbred chicken raised in filthy warehouse, yes?

A big part of my American Dream: a better world for farm animals than the one that exists now.


  1. It is so amusing when I'm asked, so what do vegetarians eat? What a beautiful sampling of the local variety in wonderful vegan dishes you have shared here. Thank you so much for sharing these with me!

  2. Hi Jennifer. You're so welcome, and thanks for the comment. I've been answering that question for two decades.

    I wonder at what point we've become so uncaring that chickens are boiled alive on fast moving assembly lines, that egg laying hens are crammed into wire cages, or pregnant sows can't turn around since society needs to have meat, milk and eggs at every meal for the cheapest cost. I'll happily have a veggie dog instead of a meat one or a bean taco instead of a chicken one not to contribute to that system.