Friday, September 30, 2011

Vegan Spanikopita

Vegan Spanikopita
From the Vegan World Fusion Cuisine Cookbook

As I bit into the vegan spanikopita at the Blossoming Lotus, I fell head over heels in love.  “If this is vegan, I could easily convert everyone I know!” I thought to myself.  Fortunately, although the Blossoming Lotus is no longer in Hawaii (only in Portland), they did create a beautiful cookbook, and I splurged and bought a copy several years ago.

I was eager to make the spanikopita for my dear husband, but I put it off for ages simply because it looked really time consuming … and I am decidedly lazy in the kitchen.

But much to my and my husband’s delight, I not only set about making the spanikopita last week … I found it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be!  And it’s delicious, just like the restaurant, with all wholesome ingredients, so you feel great about eating it.  For an alternative, you can skip the phyllo dough and put the filling into lettuce wraps or straight into pretty serving dishes. 

Here is a photo.  I don’t want to violate copyright laws by printing a recipe that is in a copyrighted book, but you can find the recipe in the Blossoming Lotus’ cookbook, Vegan World Fusion Cuisine.  I highly recommend the entire cookbook – the food is truly gourmet vegan and much of it is raw.  On a final note, a friend of the owner of Blossoming Lotus told me that he created that epic restaurant during a two-year vow of silence!  Amazing!

Monday, September 19, 2011


It was a great moment for vegans when we turned on the television and saw Kathy Freston on the Oprah Show touting the vegan diet.  With her beauty and poise, she made a great spokesperson for the vegan diet.

However, as the show went on, she assuaged nervous Oprah staffers by telling them that they didn’t have to go 100% vegan … they could be “vegan-ish.” That’s when many of us vegans started to get a little uncomfortable…

It’s not that I’m opposed to people eating only a partially vegan diet.  If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that I am a big proponent of doing the absolute best you can, and being really proud of that.  Even if you only feel that you’re able to eat a vegan diet 50% of the time right now, you’ll still be reducing the suffering and needless death of animals by 50%, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint by 50%, and you’ll make some great strides toward bettering your health.

However, there is a difference between a bonafide vegan and someone who eats a vegan diet:  The word “vegan” connotes a basic philosophy that other living beings are not ours to exploit.  Therefore, vegans do not eat other animals or their products, we do not wear other animals (like leather, suede, fur or wool) and we do not use products that contain animal ingredients (such as many shampoos and other household products.)  It may be next to impossible to do all this perfectly, but as long as a person is doing his or her best to abide by these principles, they are officially vegan.

There are many people who are not particularly concerned about the animals or environment, yet choose to eat a vegan diet for health reasons.  These people are eating a vegan diet, but are not vegans, because true veganism is an entire philosophy – not just a diet.  In fact, many people are now using the term “plant-based diet” instead of “vegan diet” to differentiate between those who adopt this diet for health reasons versus philosophical reasons.

However, while you can be a bonafide vegan or a person who eats a vegan diet, you cannot be “vegan-ish.”  For example, just like you cannot be Christian-ish (you either believe that Jesus is the son of God or you do not) you cannot be vegan-ish either (you either believe it is acceptable to kill or exploit other beings for human purposes or you do not.) 

I’m not here to tell you what you should believe.  If you eat a vegan diet full time or part time, I’m simply requesting that you either call yourself a vegan, or say that you eat a vegan diet, based on whether you espouse a vegan philosophy.  Just please don’t call yourself “vegan-ish!”  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Vegan Craze

Well, it’s taken 9 years since I went vegan, but I’m officially no longer a freak:  The vegan diet has decidedly gone mainstream, and I couldn’t be more excited!

It probably started when Skinny Bitch became a best-seller, convincing all those Cosmo-reading 20-somethings that you could slip into a size 2 and be kind to animals at the same time, all without ingesting any of those *$#@(*&! chemicals.  Around the same time, Colin Campbell published The China Study, which convinced some big-named football player to go vegan, and that caused a stir in the sports world.  Then Kathy Freston appeared on Oprah, explaining that you could be “vegan-ish” and still make a difference in your health and weight (read about my thoughts on that in next week’s blog.)  Oprah challenged her whole staff to go vegan for a week, and the world followed.  That’s when we vegans were finally vindicated:  If Oprah endorses it, everyone knows it must be okay.

More recently, Bill Clinton came out of the vegan closet when he told Larry King and, later, Sanjay Gupta, that his newfound health and physique were due to a vegan diet.  Sanjay Gupta ran a 1-hour program on the diet, highlighting Caldwell Esselstyn and friends, and we vegans were jumping up and down in our living rooms saying, “I’VE BEEN FOLLOWING THEIR WORK FOR YEARS!!!”  We vegans have been following, promoting, touting, recommending and worshipping people like Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, Colin Campbell, PhD, John Robbins, Jeff Novick, RD, Joel Fuhrman, MD and John McDougall, MD for years.  So it’s a happy day for us to see our heroes finally making it on CNN and Oprah.  It just doesn’t get any bigger.

However, what makes me so excited about it is that, unlike Atkins, Weight Watchers, gluten-free diets, etc, I truly believe the vegan diet will have a very high retention rate.  The reason is simple:  We Americans say we want to be thin, and we continually diet in the pursuit of being thin, yet research shows that somewhere around 96% of people are not successful at getting the weight off and keeping it off.  This tells me that our motive (getting thin) is simply not compelling enough.  If it was compelling enough, we would have lost the weight and kept it off the first time. 

So what does motivate people to lose the weight and keep it off?  Well, for most of us, it’s not our vanity, much to our surprise.  It usually ends up being something like a serious health problem due to being overweight or, for those who come across the information, the knowledge of the atrocities in factory farms.

While many people will become introduced to the vegan diet after seeing Oprah or President Clinton on TV, they will likely start googling “vegan diet” and checking Amazon for related books.  Eventually, they will come across Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, or one of the many ground-breaking books that goes beyond the health benefits of a vegan diet and covers the extreme cruelty and environmental destruction of our mass-farming system.  That’s the information that will convince people to go vegan for life. You see, the motivations of life, compassion and stewardship are compelling enough for people to stick with this diet.

So, cheers to Oprah, Caldwell, Sanjay, Colin, Bill and all the others that are helping to make vegan mainstream!  With every new vegetarian or vegan, 100 land animals are saved every year!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Be Kind to Yourself

I read in a recent blog where the author said she was feeling like a fraud for struggling to take advice she’d offered in an article.” I can totally relate.  People assume that as a vegan author and speaker I must eat perfectly every day – never slipping up on vegan sweets or (gasp!) snarfing down an order of fried onion rings.

But I do.  I have a penchant for the vegan coconut chocolate chip cookies at Mana Foods, and the vegan Caesar Salad at Watercourse.  I used to buy into the opinion that if I am a vegan author I must eat perfectly.   Of course, I didn’t (and still don’t) eat perfectly, so when I did splurge on some vegan carrot cake or a vegan Oklahoma Ba-cun “Cheese”burger at Native Foods, I would feel bad about myself for days.  “If I’m going to be a vegan author, I need to set an example!” I’d tell myself.  “If I’m going to tell my audiences to avoid salt, sugar and fat so they can really reap the full benefits of a vegan diet, then I have to do the same thing too … at all times, perfectly!”

But do you know what?  As I’ve been growing up, I’ve been slowly learning to be kind to myself … and alas, I find that I want to splurge on those things less and less.  It used to be that if I was in LA, I had to go to Native Foods at every opportunity and inhale one of those burgers for every possible meal.  Who knows when I might get back to LA?  But I don’t do that anymore.  In fact, I may go once, or not at all.  Not because my willpower has changed, but because I want to be kind to myself and my body, and I know that I often feel worse when I eat heavier foods.  But sometimes I do eat one, and when I do, I enjoy it, and savor it, and am happy that I ate it when I am done.  After all, nobody does a Bac-un “Cheese”burger like Tanya at Native Foods!

Geneen Roth, in her book Women, Food and God, talks about this concept of being kind to yourself in depth, and makes a point that I have found to be very true:  IF you can successfully beat your body into skinny jeans through painful workouts and near-starvation diets, you’ll probably live a miserable existence; and if you can’t, you’ll probably beat yourself up about what a loser you are with no willpower.  Either way, you lose. 

Yet many of us fear that if we don’t continually beat ourselves up about our food and diet choices, we will blow up into balloons – we’ll eat with abandon and become morbidly obese.  Yet, the opposite is ironically true.  If you come from a place of loving yourself, and allow yourself to feel your feelings instead of numbing them with food, then your body naturally eats when it’s hungry and doesn’t want to eat when it’s not.  You slide into this place of bliss where you can trust your instincts to guide you to eat what you want, in the proper amounts, when you’re truly hungry for it.  Curiously, you may find that your skinny jeans fit with no battle! 

If you’re one of the many people who battle with your diet, where food becomes a source of pain rather than pleasure, it can turn around … and quickly.  But it takes one big step … learning to be kind to yourself.  So quit criticizing your thighs every time you pass a mirror and focus instead on how grateful you are that those thighs can carry you around.  Many do not have thighs that work, and cannot go for a walk through the park or play a game of tennis.  Quit noticing every wrinkle that appears, and instead be happy that you’ve had so much to smile about over the years.  Take time for yourself, and stop to smell flowers or talk to the neighbor’s doggie.  Notice the warmth of the sun on your arms in the summer and the beauty of the snow in winter.  Pour a cup of tea and just sit by the window and look out for a while.  Be grateful.  Most people around the world have such big worries that they cannot afford the luxury of worrying about their thighs.

For more information, look for books and products by Geneen Roth and Louise Hay, among others.