Tag Archives: Food

Book Review: How to be Vegan: Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Cruelty-Free Eating, Living, Dating, Travel, Decorating, and More

How to be Vegan: Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Cruelty-Free Eating, Living, Dating, Travel, Decorating, and More by Elizabeth Castoria is an introduction and guide to the vegan lifestyle. Castoria is the former editorial director of VegNews. 

One of my biggest peeves with vegans stems from definitions. In this book I see the same thing. Vegans do not eat or use any animal products which is clear and concise. However vegetarians eat eggs and dairy according to Castoria. As a vegetarian, that is news to me. Vegetarians are by definition herbivores. There are hyphenated exceptions such as lacto-vegetarians who eat dairy and ovo-vegetarians who eat eggs. Castoria sees no difference. What separates vegetarians from vegans is the use of animal products, which is rather a blurry area. Vegans won’t eat honey because bees are animals, but very few would think twice about fumigating their house to get rid of termites. There is a sliding scale of acceptability. 

The book on the whole provides good information on why giving up the consumption of animal products is a worthwhile endeavour. There are personal benefits for your health and environmental benefits. Cattle rank as the greatest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. There is also the animal rights portion too. There is an overall loss in food production by raising animals for slaughter. Animals require much more food than they provide. And, yes, you can get all your protein through plants. 

There are also useful “pro-tips” and celebrity tidbits throughout the book. Most aspects of everyday life are covered from being vegan while traveling, what to eat at the airport, and how to order vegan meals when the options are not on the menu. There is a chapter on household and beauty item and a list some that are vegan. Most aspects of life are covered with the exception of automobiles. Our car society impacts animals a great deal from road kill, destroying habitats for new roads, sprawling suburbia destroying any meaningful wildlife refuge. Not to mention the destruction of the environment from oil spills and pollution. But, giving up a car is harder than giving up meat, I guess. 

All in all a decent introduction to veganism. The recipes at the end of the book are an added bonus, and from reading through them, they seem like they would taste good and look easy to make. I would recommend this book to anyone looking at changing their life to a healthier one and one that is gentler on the planet. Even with what this book lacks it does give an encouraging boost to those interested in veganism (or vegetarianism).

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Book Review: Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes

Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes by Julie Hasson is the latest in her series of cookbooks which includeVegan Diner. Hasson has been in the food industry for the past twenty years. She has been a personal chef for celebrities, contributed to Bon AppetitCookng LightVegitarian Times, and VegNews. She as also appeared on the Cooking Channel, local television and Martha Stewart Living Radio. She currently runs Julie’s Original (gluten free baking mixes) and the Native Bowl. 

Two points on this reviewer. As a long time strict vegetarian, I jumped at the chance to review and try some of the recipes in this book. I prefer the term strict vegetarian over vegan and look at the big picture of things. Petroleum, oil, road expansions, and cars do a great deal of harm to the environment which is the reason I don’t drive a car. But ask a vegan if they drive and you are more than likely to get a “Yeah, of course. I need to get around.” When asked if they know the damage that does you will usually get the less than idealistic response of “that’s unavoidable”. In short, I am at odds with the word “vegan” as a meaningful term. Secondly, I have never reviewed a cookbook before, but why not start with something I know. 

The book has everything a good standalone cookbook should have: 

Pantry, explaining all the ingredients that you may not be familiar with like spelt, quinoa, and agave syrup. 

Equipment, all the pots, pans, thermometers, and anything else you need. 

Tips and Tricks, including what you need to know about diary free cheese. 

Resources, at the back of the book, lists sources for equipment like food processors and blenders. 

There is also contact and web page information for specialty ingredients as well as the metric conversions. 

The main section of the book contain recipes for a variety of pizza doughs from traditional, to gluten free to corn meal. The recipes are clearly written and all the ingredients are readily available from you average supermarket. The “meat” recipes are also clear and easy to follow, although, depending on where you live, you may need to find a store other than you average supermarket for Textured Vegetable Protein. 

The sauce section gives you everything from the traditional tomato based sauces as well as a some “cheese” sauces that are cashew based. All the ingredients are readily available, but again depending on where you live, you may need a specialty store for nutritional yeast. The cheese is store bought. Daiya is a brand I am familiar with and very good. If you are “vegan” check the labels of the brands. Several brands use casein, milk protein, in their inaccurately labeled “dairy free” cheese. 

Hasson supplies the reader with several traditional pizzas made vegan and a section called Farmer’s Market Pizzas. The latter contains interesting combinations like Pineapple and Jalapeno, Sweet potato and Kale, and Wild Mushroom and Potato Pizza. Not Your Usual Suspects has Cheeseburger Pizza (with pickles), a Cowboy Pizza (with Broccoli?!?), and Peanut Barbecue Pizza (think Thai). Also included are Global Flavors like Eggplant Parmesan, Taco, and Bibimbap (Korean sweet and spicy) and sweet pizzas like berry pie and coconut caramel.

Vegan Pizza is well written, clear, and imaginative. Unlike several vegan cookbooks I have read, the ingredients are readily available. This book would make many weeks of different pizzas and fuel ideas for many more. An excellent cookbook, even for omnivores.


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Book Review: Fast Food Vindication

Fast Food Vindication

Lisa Tillinger Johansen’s book Fast Food Vindication seeks to put fast food in better place than Fast Food Nation andSupersize Me. Johansen is a former McDonald’s corporate employee who left the company to earn a Masters in Science in nutritional science and works as a registered dietitian. To be fair, I am a strict vegetarian who avoids all fast food and rarely eats out. I am in the opposite corner than Johansen on this issue.

I will give Johansen credit for making a stand for personal responsibility. Fast food is not the primary problem. No one forces anyone to eat a Big Mac or sit on a couch all day. Children today play basketball and football today, but it is mostly on a video screen rather than outdoors. As a kid, I was outside playing with friends or riding my bike from sunup until the street lights came on. We were all very active. That no longer exists as the norm. McDonald’s is hardly to blame for that. Individuals and parents need to take responsibility. 

There is little doubt that fast food the fast food industry contributes to charities. The Ronald McDonald House and the “Have it your way” Foundation come to mind. As a Boy Scout, I remember McDonald’s donating orange drink to major functions. Also as a Boy Scout, I was part of the celebration that opened the first McDonald’s in our suburb. We raised the American flag and were treated to breakfast. McDonald’s, and later Wendy’s, became involved in local community events. Granted that was back in the 1970s. 

Johansen covers an incident with PeTA at a opening on a McDonald’s were she was present. PeTA, as part of their McCruelty campaign, showed videos of chickens being slaughtered. This upset many parents and children. PeTA goes a bit over the top (but the same can be said of anti-abortion groups, human rights groups, and feed the children groups: shock factor sells) but they were accurate. People forget or don’t know where their food comes from. I look at it and think I have no problem watching my food being harvested, why should others have a problem knowing where their food comes from? PeTA did have an effect aside from outraging the squeamish public. McDonald’s is pressuring pork suppliers to end the practice of gestation crates, dropped an egg supplier over cruelty charges, and it now has a animal welfare page on its website. 

To show that fast food is a healthy choice the author compares favorite fast food with sit down restaurants. Not surprising, most restaurants serve huge portions of food; starting bread sticks, appetizers, main meal, and desert, the number of calories in a meal can be considered in “days worths”. Some appetizers have more calories than some main courses: Applebee’s Appetizer Sampler has 2200 calories; a full days worth of calories. A slab of baby back ribs (1,600 calories) is not healthier than a fast food hamburger. Chili’s offer 1000 and 650 calorie salads with up to 88 grams of fat. So comparatively speaking fast food might be better for you and of course you can make better choices of what you eat at either type of establishment.

Johansen admits she likes eating out and does a good job of selecting foods to show that you can eat “healthy”, even at McDonald’s. She is careful to limit her scope and make comparisons to support her thesis. Is she wrong? No. Has she convinced me it is OK to eat at McDonald’s? No. (In fact McDonald’s states that none of their offerings are certified vegetarian, not even the black coffee.) However, if you like eating out and fast food and want something to support your choice this book is for you. Just remember that Johansen holds you responsible for what you eat, not the restaurant.

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Book Review: Food Politics

Food Politics

Food Politics by Robert Paarlberg is exactly what the title says. I thought I knew quite a bit about my food. I am a vegetarian. I read labels. I have seen the documentaries on our food. I am smart enough to know that meat is not neatly created in styrofoam and plastic wrapped packages. I also know that the long list of chemicals on a frozen burrito wrapper are not natural food stuffs. Furthermore, I know that international trade of food is a touchy subject between countries, small family farms are mostly a thing of the past,and feed lots are trouble in the making. Paalberg has much more to add. 

We start with Thomas Malthus who proposed that population growth would outpace food production and result in starvation. Population grows exponentially and compared to linear growth of increased production. Fortunately, technology allowed increased harvests and migration to urban settings slowed population growth. Mankind beat Malthus, at least temporarily. 

Paarlberg presents several cases for the cost of food. These included production, famine, speculation, and protectionism. Politics is intertwined in almost every aspect of our food. From subsidies, to tariffs and outright bans, politics controls food. No politician from Iowa would survive with out supporting a farm bill nor a Texan politician survive without supporting the beef industry. Whether or not these government programs provide any real value to farmers is a matter for debate. When the government tries to act in good faith to protect the environment against Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO or Feed Lots) it is met with heavy resistance from lobbies and threats of limiting campaign donations. Even when something positive like taxing junk food is proposed it is met by resistance from food processors to the convenient store owners. 

What is not pure politics, is in advertising. The food industry manipulates ingredients like fat, sugar, and salt to make irresistible tasting food. This also plays directly to children. The industry spends $2 billion a year advertising food to children. The average American child sees thirteen food advertisements a day. Healthy sounding “Whole Grain” usually means added fat and sugar to make it taste better. School lunches fall to food producers and lobbyists too. Pizza is considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce. Potato growers fight for French Fries to be included as a healthy vegetable. Other producers fight for the inclusion of soda and junk food to be allowed in schools.

What have food politics gotten us? The Green Revolution provided huge increases in production. The newer battles between agribusiness and sustainability create controversy. Food costs have dropped 50% through the 20th Century and income levels rose 400%. Food is typical 10% of an average American’s budget. With that we also have genetically modified food, heavily processed food, high fructose corn syrup, and unprecedented access to a vast variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. We also have a growing obesity problem, but a pharmaceutical industry keeping us “healthy” despite ourselves.

Paarlberg goes into great detail about many more aspects of our food and the politics surrounding it. He presents very balanced arguments and supports them well. His book, however, is not aFast Food Nation or a Food Inc., or anti-Monsanto/ConAgra/ et al; he presents balance and reason. Food and the politics of food is a timely and important subject as we face increased trade, changes in our farming systems, and vocal groups from anti-GMO to others demanding their right to giant sized sodas in New York City. Food Politcs gave me more information than I thought possible on the subject. It is well written and easy to follow. The only complaint I have is that a more complete bibliography could have been included.

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