Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Six reasons you should visit an animal sanctuary

Animal rescues and sanctuaries are a special kind of place for me. Meeting all of the precious animals that have overcome so much, and seeing them in a place where they are finally cared for and respected both breaks and warms my heart. I usually cry when I'm at a sanctuary, mostly because I'm a crybaby with a hyperactive sense of empathy, but also because it really is a moving experience.

Farmed animal sanctuaries are their own kind of special, because while vegans obviously respect and care for animals of all species and walks of life, we find ourselves impacting and defending farmed animals the most. To have a personal connection to the animals we work so hard to help is nothing short of powerful.

So, here are my 6 reasons everyone should visit an animal sanctuary. Of course, I've peppered the post with pictures from my visits to sanctuaries.

Near the entrance of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainesville, Florida.
  1. Having firsthand experience with the animals you defend on a day to day basis makes your argument stronger. If you have seen the scared, disturbed eyes of a monkey saved from medical testing or have rubbed an 800 lb. pig's belly as she rolled over for pets, then it's a lot easier to defend these beautiful creatures in casual conversation.
    Dylan the steer enjoying stratches from my husband at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary near Woodstock, New York.
  2. Profile pictures. Yeah, you COULD use a selfie in your bathroom with your favorite Herbivore shirt on. Nothing wrong with that. But for real vegan cred, use a picture of a cow licking your nose (or, in my case, a mustang eating my hair). 
    You didn't think I was joking, right? At C.J. Acres in Keystone Heights, Florida
  3. You'll make so many new friends. Especially if you choose to volunteer instead of taking a tour, you will have the opportunity to meet all of the wonderful animals (both human and nonhuman), and form lasting relationships with them. 
    Athena is a particularly friendly little goat. At C.J. Acres in Keystone Heights, Florida.
  4. It can be a great workout. Why go to the gym when you can muck stalls, move bales of hay, chop a hundred pounds of vegetables and socialize with goats? 
    Olive stole our shovel and tried to hide it in her bed. This was the first of two times she stole it. The second time, she tried to get it out of the pen. At Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary near Woodstock, New York.
  5. You really are making a difference. Even if you only volunteer once every month or so, you are changing these animals' lives and making life easier for those who work hard every day on their behalf. Not only that, but the education you receive at a sanctuary is something you will spread, and it will change you.
    She was so exciting that we cleaned out her coop that she started making a nest as soon as we put down the new bedding. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary near Woodstock, New York.
  6. Nothing strengthens your ideals more than actually working hands on with the animals you love and defend so much. If you find your strength wavering, or if you are on the fence with veganism and animal rights, pop on some (leather free) work boots and get your butt over to the nearest sanctuary. Once you see the horrible things that humans do to animals of all kinds, it's impossible to waver anymore. 
    Ducks! At C.J. Acres in Keystone Heights, Florida
  7. Visiting an animal sanctuary can make for a fantastic vacation. Many sanctuaries have some form of lodging on site. Some even have a full on vegan bed and breakfast. The money goes to a good cause, and they make for fun and unique trips where you can help animals in need and relax at the same time. My husband and I took our honeymoon at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and had a wonderful time.
Do you enjoy visiting animal sanctuaries? Which are your favorites?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seitan isn't scary!

I love seitan. It's probably my favorite food - after maybe sweet potatoes and ginger.

One thing that makes me sad about seitan is that people are so scared of making it. For some reason, it has become this big terrifying monster looming over the vegan kitchen. And it doesn't have to be.

Seitan is actually really easy to make. Plan on your first batch failing miserably. For some reason this seems to happen. I don't know anyone who has had a perfect first batch. The thing is, after the first one it almost always seems to work.

So here's some tips to make your journey into the world of seitan much easier. I've peppered the post with some of my favorite seitan meals from my Instagram to help inspire you.

  • Homemade seitan is incredibly versatile. Depending on how you season it and shape it, you can create a thousand dishes. Pot roasts, fajitas, meatballs, a Thanksgiving turkey, burgers, southern fried chicken, or anything else you can imagine. Therefore, don't get yourself too stuck on one singular recipe. Get creative and don't be afraid to experiment.

The birthday dinner my husband made for me. It's breaded and fried seitan served with glazed carrots, mashed potatoes and a homemade barbecue sauce.
  • I am most familiar and comfortable with simmered seitan. You can also make it steamed. To simmer seitan, you create a dough with liquids and vital wheat gluten, then simmer it in a delicious broth for around 45 minutes. What you get is a solid chunk of meat, dead bodies not included. You can then cook this pretty much any way you would cook animal-based meat, though it doesn't need as long a cook time as something like chicken would.

Quick pad thai made with leftover seitan strips and whatever veggies I had sitting around.
  • The best ratio I've found for delicious seitan is 2 parts dry to 1 part liquid. Put the dry ingredients in a big bowl and then stir in the wet. Once a dough starts to form, finish mixing it with your hands and knead it for a couple of minutes.

One of our seitan turkeys from thanksgiving. We always have to make more than one because the vegan men eat way too much and all of the omnivores have a few slices too.
  • The dry is typically almost exclusively vital wheat gluten with different herbs and spices added. I like to add a bunch of ground ginger if I'm planning to make an Asian inspired dish, and I've made delicious sausage by adding lots of fennel and ground pepper. 

Asian-inspired burgers.
  • The liquid is mostly composed of broth, but should also include something salty (usually soy sauce), some oil and some acid. My base recipe usually uses olive oil and lemon juice, but you can easily sub most other oils (grapeseed is wonderfully mild) and other acidic liquids (for burgers, try a splash of apple cider vinegar). You can also add minced garlic into the liquid. 
Grilled mango ginger seitan over brown rice.

  • To change up the texture and the taste, sub up to half of the wheat gluten with chickpea flour. This is my favorite for making burgers, meatballs or pork chops. 
White pizza with seitan strips, onions, spinach and lots of homemade alfredo and mozzarella.

  • Once you've made the dough, you can cut it up into pieces, shape it into burger or meatballs, or just make a big roast. You can also just cut it and slice it up after it's prepared. I usually cut the dough into 3 or 4 chunks, unless I'm making something like burgers or a pot roast. Keep in mind that the seitan will expand while it simmers, so that you don't end up with burgers twice the size of the bread.
These are the burgers that put vegans in heaven and have omnivores begging for the recipe.
  • Let the dough rest a few minutes before dumping it into the broth.

  • Seitan dough is simmered in a delicious broth in a large saucepan or stock pot. The simmering broth should cover the seitan. Make the broth by mixing a few cups of veggie broth, water, a splash of soy sauce and at least one boullion cube or a comparable seasoning. You can also add more herbs and spices to the broth, as it will affect the flavor of the final product. Sometimes I add a bay leaf and some herb blends to it, along with mashed garlic cloves. 
Thanksgiving leftover sliders. Rolls with a slice of that delicious roast you just saw, covered in mashed potatoes, cheesy corn and gravy.

  • When you're simmering seitan the most important thing in the world is to not let the water boil once the seitan is in there, particularly during the first 20 minutes. If you have a finicky stove, you might need to hang out in the kitchen adjusting the heat. Once you've made it a few times, you'll get a feel for what works best for your pot and your stove.
Pecan crusted seitan. This is one of our favorite dishes. Seitan cutlets are coated in a panko and ground pecan mixture and then pan fried.

  •  So you've done everything perfectly and the finished seitan is soft and mushy? Grease a cookie sheet and toss it into the oven for a few minutes at 300 degrees F. This won't work if you end up with pureed brains, but it will firm up seitan that's a bit too soft.
Crazy-messy taco filling made with cubed seitan, quinoa, veggies and lots of spices.

  • The best seitan is made with homemade broth. Save the ends of veggies as you cut them and store them in the freezer. Then, fill up a giant pot with water, a dash of soy sauce, a bay leaf and whatever veggies you have in the freezer or sitting around. I try to always include onions, potatoes and garlic, but anything else goes. You can also use carrot or potato peels and broccoli stalks. Simmer the whole mess for a few hours, strain it all and store in the fridge in jars. It's a thousand times better than the boxed or canned stuff, and costs next to nothing to make. 
Tandoori setian skewers. Seitan is the answer to all vegan grilling problems.

  • One of the best things about seitan is that it keeps really well in the fridge or freezer, and it's easy to make a huge amount at once. Just store it in a big glass or tupperware container filled with the broth you simmered it in. If you'll be using it within a week, keep it in the fridge. If it's going to be longer, toss it in the freezer. You can also marinate seitan overnight or for a few days. This is a great practice for making delicious and easy weekday meals. The seitan is already made, so can just chop it up and add it to any quick meal. 
Making seitan pastelillos (or empanadas). A Puerto Rican dish, veganized. This is before I fried them, obviously.

  • If you want to get a really crisp "skin" on the seitan, lightly dust the pieces in flour and pan fry on medium high heat in a little bit of oil.

Still not completely sold? There are some store bought seitan brands out there, but even the few that are really yummy are usually hard to find and pale in comparison to the taste a versatility of homemade. For the record, my favorite brand of seitan is Upton's Naturals, so give them a try if you are new to the seitan world. It can be hard to find, though, and you might need to order it online (according to their website, they don't sell a single one of their products in Florida with the exception of the panhandle. Which we all know isn't really 100% Florida). A lot of vegetarian and vegan restaurants also make their own seitan, and I've only been to one restaurant where that house seitan is bad, so if you are lucky enough to try it at a restaurant, go ahead!

Good luck and let me know any of your foolprood seitan tips and tricks!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Campus to table: Local, organic produce for UCF students

The National Restaurant Association named locally-sourced produce, environmental sustainability and more vegetable based meals in the top ten food trends of 2014. These trends are not lost on University of Central Florida (UCF) students as more are reaping the benefits of the Arboretum community garden and growing their own food at home.

The UCF Arboretum’s community garden takes up about 1 acre of the nearly 82 acre arboretum. About half of the garden area is allocated for vegetables, and the other half is fruit trees. All of the food from the garden goes directly to students, either to volunteers or through the Knight’s Pantry on campus. The arboretum donates approximately 100 pounds of produce a month to the pantry, totaling more than 150 pounds donated in the month of March. This means that students who are struggling to pay for food can incorporate fresh, local and organic vegetables into their diet, instead of just eating the canned and packaged food that is also readily available at Knight’s Pantry.

The garden is entirely maintained by volunteers, and students who volunteer get to bring home some of the food. “If you work the land, you get to reap some of the benefits” Jacques Werleigh, garden manager and leadership liason at the arboretum, said. Volunteers also get other incentives after meeting different goals, such as organic shirts, water bottles and tote bags, but students get to bring home produce each day that they volunteer. Any leftover food is composted and used to grow more vegetables.

The produce available at Knight’s Pantry also offers a particular benefit to vegans and vegetarians on campus. Melanie Arcic gets fresh greens, such as mustard greens, from the pantry because there aren’t many suitable options on campus for her lifestyle. Otherwise, she brings boxed lunches to school with her.

This summer, the arboretum will begin to offer workshops on urban agriculture, so students can learn more about how to grow food in limited spaces and on porches and balconies. Werleigh said that growing food is basic, and that it is a core component of our strength as a species.

“People like to say they don’t have a ‘green thumb’ but I say, ‘no, you’ve just forgotten.’” Werleigh said.

The arboretum garden is organic, which means that growing foods while they are in season is particularly important.

“You can’t have tomatoes year round,” Werleigh said. However, learning about the diversity within food creates a more rich and complete diet. When tomatoes are not in season, tomatillos – a similar food – are readily available. Most people are not aware that there are many different types of spinach since they only see the variety sold in grocery stores, Werleigh said. Three different varieties of spinach are currently in season at the community garden, along with beans, eggplant, peppers, squash and snap peas.

Werleigh also gave advice for common urban agriculture issues.

“Regardless of where you are, you can grow stuff,” he said. In spaces with limited sunlight, herbs and lettuce will thrive. On a balcony, vining plants – such as pole beans, some herbs and Malabar spinach – grow well. He also said that this type of gardening can supplement store bought foods in a way that is healthy and sustainable. 

For students interested in local and sustainable food, Werleigh said that eating locally, supporting local businesses that use organic products and getting involved in food-related public policy are all very important. Food policy issues are the most crucial, he said, particularly laws and rules regarding how food is grown, transported and delivered.

Werleigh said that he wishes more of the local and organic ethic will continue to spread to the UCF area as it has in parts of downtown Orlando and Winter Park where Dandelion Café and the new East End Market are thriving.

The community garden holds volunteer sessions each weekday, and can arrange for weekend volunteer sessions with advance notice and a group of five or more.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Guest Post: What is sustainable food?

My friend, Missy Patrick, is guest blogging today with her thoughts on what "sustainable food" really means.

I hope you enjoy!

Photo from

     Sustainable food to me is food that gives more than it takes from the land. When food is grown sustainably, it is done in a way that it doesn’t destroy the environment and leave the soil depleted. It is also grown specific to locations on the globe that it would do best in, i.e. plants that need a lot of water to grow are grown in rainy places, and plants that can take the cold are grown in the cold etc. So instead of trying to fight nature by trucking in a lot of water or using chemical fertilizers, the plants are grown in geographic areas were they would naturally thrive. This also ties in to local foods. 
     Everyone has probably heard more about ‘eating local’ nowadays as it is becoming a ‘green’ trend. Eating local means finding farmers in your town that you can buy your produce from instead of heading to a supermarket and buying produce that says ‘from Guatemala’ on it. This is an important part in eating sustainably because right now the only reason we are able to get produce from Guatemala, Chile, South Africa, etc. here in America is because of oil. The carbon footprint required to ship food all around the world is huge and it can be drastically reduced when buying local. Buying organic produce is also an important part of sustainability because non organic produce depletes the soil and puts dangerous chemicals into our environment, many that are known to cause disastrous effects on our health and the health of other creatures. 
     Conventional produce does not replace the trace minerals in the soil and is usually grown in monocrops that are susceptible to disease and insect infestations. This type of set up is not sustainable or ideal. However because we have such a large population and so many people depend on food from farmers, this type of farming has become the norm. To help reduce dependence and contribute to this, people can take up the backyard hobby of growing their own produce. When growing your own you have complete control of what goes into the soil and on your produce. You can add trace minerals to your soil and decide not to use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. You can instead choose to plant your produce in a way that is can naturally thrive. By planting herbs and produce in different ways, you can naturally repel pests from your garden. By using fertilizers that come from your own compost pile, you can replenish the soil. 
     I have had very good experience growing my own produce. I recycle any uneaten portions of produce into my worm bin, where worms break down the organic matter and turn it into a very fertile compost complete with enzymes and healthy bacteria. This creates a suitable cycle in which anything that is removed from the soil is returned to the soil. Sunlight is free. Rain is free. Which reminds me, rain, an essential part of it, falls freely from the sky but maybe not as often as your plants need. It is then just a simple matter of storing rainwater to be used later by placing a couple rain barrels on the gutter system of your home to collect rainwater. This then can be easily used at the specific times you need it. 
     For people who feel like they have no time to tend a garden, all they need is a timer to water their garden for them and some grown cover to limit weed growth. If the plants you have chosen are suited to your environment, they will grown and be fruitful with little help from you. All you need do then is enjoy picking the fruits and vegetables that you have grown all by yourself.
What does "sustainable food" mean to you? 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Orca captivity to be illegal in California?

I'm sure by now that most of you have heard of a new bill being announced in California. The bill would make orca captivity illegal and end SeaWorld's Shamu shows in San Diego.

When I first heard the news, I was really excited, but I've been thinking about it more and I have completely mixed feelings. 

Of course, this bill will never be passed into law. Though the Blackfish Effect is still gaining momentum and recent polls have shown that the majority of the general public is against keeping orcas in captivity, SeaWorld has a lot of financial (and therefore political) power. 

Image from

However, it is nice just to see this issue pushed through state government. It's a huge step in getting these issues noticed and debated. Another big plus is that Richard Bloom, the assemblyman who is proposing the bill, has outright said that Blackfish was his inspiration. This means that SeaWorld really can't continue to simultaneously say that Blackfish is causing them no problems and run (notable weird) attack ads. 

When I first saw the headlines when I woke up this morning, I was positive that the legislation included all dolphins. It seems weird to me that the bill would target only one species of the many dolphins kept in horrible conditions in California (a quick search online found about 50 non-orca dolphins living in captivity in California). 

While I am obviously for the liberation of all species, I expected that the writers of this bill and the general population would have at least considered the interests of other dolphins. Did Blackfish really turn the anti-cap movement into one just about orcas? If so, that makes me very sad.

The other issue with the bill that I noticed was that it would ban breeding, capture and performances, but the orcas would still be kept "on display." There is no wording in the bill, to my knowledge, that pushes for sea pens and rehabilitation of the orcas. These are solutions that have been widely researched and it was strange to see them left out of the bill.

Despite the issues, this is a great first step, however we absolutely can't see it as a victory in the least. Be prepared for some serious backlash from SeaWorld.
Image from

What are your thoughts on the issue? Do you think this bill is good news, bad news, or a mixed bag?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014