Saturday, April 30, 2011

3 Easy Steps to Vegan Entertaining

“HELP!  The neighbors are coming over for dinner – how can I feed them a great vegan meal that they will love?” The idea of serving a vegan meal to friends or family can seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.  Just follow these simple rules:

1.        Know your house rules.  Are you okay having meat and/or dairy products in your house?  Are you okay cooking them?  Do you keep a strict vegetarian or vegan house, and no exceptions are made for guests?  Know this ahead of time.  If your guests offer to bring a dish, you may need to let them know of your house rules in a very kind and respectful way.
2.        Know your best recipes.   I have a recipe for vegan paella that’s amazing.  I also have a recipe for vegan risotto that is to die for.  Same for Veggie Ceviche (find that recipe in my book, Vegan in 30 Days!)  Vegan chili is an easy dish that most people won’t even notice doesn’t have meat, especially if you include ground tofu in it.  These are the types of recipes that I pull out when I plan to entertain. 
When you are having guests over, this is not the time to try brand new recipes, and it’s probably not the time to trot out something like low-salt, low-fat vegan tofu quiche.  You might think it’s great, but someone used to eating the standard America diet will probably not like it.  As you try new recipes, always put a notation in your cookbook that reminds you of whether it’s good enough for carnivorous guests.  I rate all my recipes 1-5 stars.  If it’s 5 stars, I know I can serve it to my Dad!  Also, try recipe sites (like where dozens of people have rated the recipes.  If a recipe for Shephard’s Pie has 39 ratings and an average rating of 5 stars, it’s probably a winner!
3.        Offer several choices.  I have been vegan for so long that I forget how different food can taste when your palate is cleansed of animal foods.  Things that you think are delicious really might not taste that great to someone who still eats meat and dairy.  So, just in case your signature dish is not as memorable to your guests as you’d hoped, I suggest offering a few dishes.  For example, if you’re making vegan chili, also make vegan fajitas.
4.        Enjoy!  Many people (myself included) get so worried that their guests will like their food, that they don’t really enjoy the meal themselves!  But it’s like any food – meat based or not … sometimes your guests will love your food and sometimes maybe not.  You must get the idea out of your head that just because it’s vegan they will automatically hate it.  If you know your best recipes and offer two or three selections, you’re bound to make everyone happy!

Every couple of years I hold a fundraiser at my house for one of my favorite charities.  After I went vegan I had to decide what concessions I was willing to make for my guests.  I struggled and struggled that first year I was vegan about whether to suck it up and serve them non-vegan food.  I thought about it long and hard and asked friends and family for advice, but when I turned the question into, “How many animals will I let die so my guests can eat?” the answer became so incredibly obvious:  absolutely none.  So I spent the week before my party planning out my menu and really pulling out all stops to make the food amazing.  No kidding – that year I had more comments on how delicious the food was than any other year before!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Power of One

I was sitting in an office the other day, and the calendar had an adorable picture of a puppy and kitten together with the caption, “April: Prevent Animal Cruelty Month.”  Who knew?  But what a great topic for my blog!

Animal abuse is horrific.  I can’t even watch the Animal Planet anymore because they are forever airing shows about the SPCA going into homes and saving animals from the most terrible conditions.  I would cry so hard that my husband finally said, “No more Animal Planet – you’re too tender hearted.”  He’s right.  I only like to see puppies and kitties doing cute or funny things, and the people who adore them so happy to be in their presence.  With practically no willpower over my diet my entire life, I read one little book (Diet for a New America, by John Robbins) and was so upset by it that I went vegan absolutely overnight. 

Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog:  What’s the most effective way that you can help prevent animal cruelty?  Well, unless you’re abusing animals regularly, the most effective way to help prevent animal cruelty (and it is extremely effective) is to quit eating them, eating their products, wearing them and using them. 

Most every animal sold for its meat is kept in absolutely deplorable conditions, and usually sent to the slaughterhouse under terror and pain.  I really want you to take a moment and imagine this scenario: You live in an elevator your whole life with 5 other people.  You are all fed the same disgusting food every day, and you defecate and urinate all over your elevator and have to step in it and sleep in it all the time.  The fumes from your waste are so bad that you all get respiratory illness, the filth so bad you get infections and diseases, and rats are running through your elevator, biting you.  You are crammed into such a small place that you get into huge fights with the 5 other people in the elevator.  You bite each other, scratch each other and kick each other.  Many of you go crazy, becoming quite dangerous to the other people in the elevator.  You become afraid to sleep.  On top of that, the people who own the elevator put antibiotics and hormones and other things in your disgusting food, making you grow too fast for your bone structure, resistant to bacteria, falling further ill, sick and sore.  At some point, a couple of you in the elevator can’t even stand anymore, you are so beaten down by your conditions.  This is what it is like for chickens stuffed into tiny cages together, or pigs in a hoghouse. 

I don’ t need to go into gorry detail here about the atrocities of factory farming.  However, I bring this up specifically so that you can imagine what it might be like yourself to live a life of confinement, pain, disease, emotional trauma and fear … and then contemplate why you might expect an animal to go through this type of cruelty – and much worse – only to become your dinner, your jacket or your shoes.  I highly recommend the video Earthlings if you haven’t heard about all of the sources of animal products before.

Ask yourself, why would I treat a dog any differently that I would treat a chicken?  They are all lives, and I argue that no one type of life – even a human life – is more worthy than any other.  If you wouldn’t want to be treated in such inhumane conditions, then don’t expect another animal to do it for your sake either.

PETA says that a vegetarian saves 100 land animals a year by not eating them.  That doesn’t include fish and shellfish, nor does it include the raw suffering of dairy animals and laying hens that aren’t killed for our meat, but suffer endlessly to give us dairy and eggs. 

So, it’s April – Prevent Animal Cruelty Month.  What will you do for the rest of this month to help prevent animal cruelty?  Go vegetarian?  Go fully vegan?  Choose to buy the car that doesn’t have leather seats?  Take your nephew to the beach instead of the circus or zoo?  Rescue a cat or dog that is headed for the gas chamber tomorrow?  Or maybe it’s time for you to reach out and become more vocal about why you are vegan?  It doesn’t take much to make a huge difference. 

The Power of One is amazing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Honey, You Don't Love Yourself Enough!

I have an amazing life coach.  I hired her a couple of years ago when I was going through a very rough time in my life.  In one of our first sessions together, as I was spilling out all the wrongs that were happening to me (yes to me – I saw myself as a victim,) she cut me off and said, in an amazingly direct way said, “Honey?  You know what your problem is?  You don’t love yourself enough!”

WHAT???  “Of course I love myself!” I shot back.  “In fact, people often comment that I have great self-esteem and confidence.  Those things come from loving yourself!”  But she was just starting on me, on a journey that would last two years.  “Honey, you’re not listening,” she said.  I didn’t say you don’t love yourself.  I said you don’t love yourself enough.” 

Wow.  That stopped me cold.  It never occurred to me that I didn’t fully love myself, but I knew something had to be right in that statement, because it just hurt too much to hear it.  If it really wasn’t true, it wouldn’t bother me at all.  Like if someone accused me of being purple with orange polka dots, that wouldn’t hurt – it’s simply not true.  But this hurt.  Bad.

Over the coming months, I went to work on myself.  I put aside everything else – desires to achieve, accomplish, acquire more, look great, gain publicity … and just read and read about how to love yourself more.  And an amazing thing happened.  I quit overeating.  Not that I ate huge amounts before, but I certainly overate almost every day, defined as eating when I was not truly hungry.  As I began to love myself more and more, I didn’t want to overeat.  I wanted to treat my body and my spirit better.  Sugary foods started sounding awful.  What an amazing discovery! 

But then, when life started to happen again and another hard time hit, I began hitting the vegan cookies again, and overeating.  My great friend (whom I won’t name here – she’s somewhat well-known) had not eaten an unhealthy bite for years, yet hit a really rough period around the same time, and started downing treats and fatty foods like nobody’s business.  As we discussed this we had this amazing discovery:  It’s a blessing when you start to overeat.

Here’s why:  Most of us have overeaten for years – every day we eat more than we need, downing salty crackers, chips and sugary treats, eating half a bag of cookies or chips before we even realize that we have opened the bag.  We are absolutely unconscious - unconscious of what is hurting our hearts so badly that we are overeating so much.  In this state of unconsciousness, we turn to food (or for some people, alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, etc.) to numb us from experiencing our pain.  We simply don’t love ourselves enough to face what is hurting and deal with it head on.  When you love yourself enough, you will face things head on, knowing that you will get through whatever it is, and grow from it all. 

When you begin to overeat, you will start to recognize it for what it really is – a hurting heart that needs to be heard and loved.  Perhaps you are fearful that someone you love is going to leave (or that it’s time for you to leave them) and you will be all alone.  Perhaps you are fearful that you are not good enough in some way.  Perhaps you are supremely angry about something, and not letting yourself acknowledge that anger.  Perhaps you feel wronged, and are not speaking your truth to the person who wronged you.

Nowadays, when I overeat for a meal, it’s no big deal – perhaps it was just too tasty and I couldn’t stop myself from going back for seconds or thirds.  But if I’m overeating for 2 or 3 days in a row, I sit on my meditation cushion and ask myself over and over again, “OK Sarah.  What’s hurting inside?”  Usually the reply back is, “Nothing!  That’s the weird thing about it - nothing’s wrong at all!”  But if I sit quietly and just ask over and over, “What’s hurting?  What’s hurting?  What’s hurting?” an answer will all of a sudden appear from nowhere.  That’s usually when I’ll burst into tears, or scream out in rage over something that I was completely unconscious about, until I started overeating.

So after 39 years on this planet, many of them baffled and upset over the mystery of why I overate, I finally embrace my overeating.  When I overeat, it’s a sign that I am not right; that I need to sit on my meditation cushion and love myself enough to go deep inside and face whatever it is that is hurting or upsetting me.  When I’ve faced it and dealt with it, not only am I done overeating, I am also at peace with whatever was causing me to hurt in the first place.  And I feel amazing.  Ahhhh, the beauty of overeating.  It’s simply a sign to wake up and be conscious … and to love yourself enough.