Vegetarian Culinarian

Recipes and resources for food lovers going green, local, and compassionate.

Category: Compassion

This New Year

“O Son of Spirit! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.” Baha’u’llah

One of the things that being a vegetarian helps me to do is become more of who I want to be. I am forced, with each seemingly small choice, to become who I am inside. Each step has been a struggle against what is easy. It is standing in a grocery store aisle with no rennet-free cheese available, with a pizza planned for dinner. It is being offered a s’more with gelatin-containing marshmallows when I’m craving gooey chocolate. It is reading every ingredient when I’m tired and short on time. It is being hungry sometimes. It is asking an impatient waiter  for an ingredient rundown. It is driving to another store when the Target I’m at doesn’t sell cruelty-free shampoo. It is inconveniencing family and friends, and defending my choices. It is “giving up” things, one at a time, that my body never really wanted anyway. But at each juncture, I have found I can’t bring myself to support pain, slaughter, and torture, be it of humans or animals. I think of their eyes when they are scared, alone, fearful, in pain.  I can’t say that any desire or convenience in my life warrants the fear, pain, torture, or slaughter of another.

Our forefathers, our ancestors, were amazing. Obviously, their ingenuity and survival skills resulted in us all being here today. But I think that society grows and progresses with each generation. We aren’t one species scrambling for a foothold in an imposing, scary world – we aren’t clawing our way to the top. We’re here. And our survival has been so successful that we are the detriment of others. As a species, our position is safe enough for us to look around and reexamine our position, our purpose, and our habits. Doing things just because we have the power to do them or because our forefathers did them that way isn’t worthy reasoning anymore. We can’t build our choices on such a foundation.

The way I interpret the quote above is that we are created noble beings, and every small choice we make in our lives can uncover more of that nobility. Every choice either moves forward our ever-advancing civilization or hinders its progress. Sometimes supporting the status quo and simply going about life as usual hinders that progress, if we aren’t thinking about the choices we’re making. I don’t have a New Year’s Resolution in the scheme of resolving to make a radical 180 degree pledge. It is a good time, though, to think about re-committing to making each small choice with awareness and purpose, so that we can rise unto that for which we were created.

Image: Paul Brentnall /


Animal Welfare Awareness

There is no doubt that the best way to care for animals is not to use them at all – to adopt a vegan lifestyle…

…but everyone out there is on a continuum, progressing in understanding according to their own awareness and the development of their empathetic capacities. I know hunters who feel nothing when they kill animals. Some friends own ranches and are emotionally removed from the slaughtering process. Other friends eat meat, but readily admit they could not kill animals themselves or watch the animals being killed. Some friends have reasons for eating some meat (like fish) but not others (like veal).  Friends and family in Tonga eat dogs, while friends from India balk at the idea of eating cows, which are sacred to them. Others will not eat meat, but will still eat cheese made with rennet (the lining of a calf’s stomach).  Some still buy sugar filtered with animal bone. A few are acutely aware of where everything they buy comes from – down to the tires on their bicycles (some tires are not vegan) – and ensure that nothing they purchase was produced in any way through animal slaughter or with animal materials. I never buy cleaning or bath products that have been tested on animals. What I’ve seen in almost everyone is the struggle that occurs when one becomes aware of another being’s suffering. Everyone deals with it differently, in their own time, in all sorts of ways – from shutting their eyes to campaigning for PETA and all of the life changes in between. But the paradigm shift always begins with that first gleaning of awareness.

There are some great websites out there that help us grow our awareness, allow us to use our purchasing power to change farming and experimentation practices, and help us make the most compassionate choices wherever we currently are on the continuum.

The Animal Rescue Site

Animal Rescue Site – The animal rescue site provides funding support for The Fund for Foundationthe International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the the North Shore Animal League America.  Click for free each day, and sponsors will donate money towards food and care of rescued animals. In addition, sign petitions, send e-cards, shop for fair trade gifts (proceeds go towards fund), and read animal rescue stories.

Animal Welfare Approved “The Animal Welfare Approved program audits and certifies family farms raising their animals humanely, outdoors on pasture or range…Animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range on true family farms with the ‘most stringent’ humane animal welfare standards according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Annual audits by experts in the field cover birth to slaughter. AWA is able to offer this certification and technical and marketing services to farmers at no charge. Because AWA is not financially dependent on farmer fees, the program is unbiased and completely transparent.” Find AWA farms and products in your area, and read about the science and research behind AWA’s standards.

Better World Shopper This great, research-based website ranks products and companies according to social and environmental responsibilities, including animal welfare. The link will take you to the dairy ratings, but you can look up seafood, meat, and fast food, in addition to non-food items like cosmetics.

Cornucopia Institute publishes scorecards for companies and farms. Review the organic egg scorecard, and dairy scorecard,in addition to their organic soy scorecard.

Eat Well Guide Find sustainable, organic restaurants, caterers, bakers, gardens, co-ops, and farmers in your area, and avoid factory farming altogether.

Farm Sanctuary “works to protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living.” Participate in rescue and adoption of farm animals, understand the issues underlying factory farming, and get involved with current bills and campaigns.

Global Animal Partnership is “a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 2008 [which] brings together farmers, scientists, ranchers, retailers, and animal advocates—a diverse group with the common goal of wanting to improve the welfare of animals in agriculture.” This group has introduced the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards.

Living Cruelty Free The blog title speaks for itself. Lots of resources here, including more in-depth details than you’ll find at some other sites. For example, Better World Shopper lists The Body Shop as one of the top 20 overall companies for ethical practices, but Living Cruelty Free actually digs a bit deeper to find that while The Body Shop does not test on animals, it is a subsidiary of L’Oreal, which does test on animals.

Local Harvest Find small local farms, farmers’ markets, and the CSA closest to you, and avoid factory farming altogether.

Maple Farms Sanctuary -Check out this amazing animal sanctuary submitted by Jake Johnston from Play With My Food. “Maple Farm Sanctuary is an animal sanctuary providing lifelong homes for abused, abandoned and unwanted farmed animals while promoting veganism and respect for all life through public information. Maple Farm Sanctuary has taken in a fraction of the billions of farmed animals that are bought, sold, tormented and slaughtered by the meat, dairy and fur industries.”

PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals provides this invaluable list of companies that do and don’t test on animals.

Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine– This non-profit organization of members of the medical community is focused on research-based preventative medicine (they offer a Vegetarian Starter Kit towards this end) as well as encouraging and campaigning for higher ethical standards in medical research. They have successfully persuaded several universities to cease the use of animals for medical school training and in experimentation.

Whole Foods 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards provide consumers with information about the animals their products come from, ranging from Step 1: No Crates, No Cages, to Step 5: Animal Centered (Entire Life on Same Farm). They are working with Global Animal Partnership in launching this effort.

World of Good This online store by eBay “brings you thousands of Animal Friendly, People Positive, and Eco Positive products and listings that Support a Cause – 100% verified by independent Trust Provider organizations and labeled with Goodprint statements that show your positive purchase impact.”

Do you know of other resources that help us make compassionate choices? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo Credits: Peter Haken

Oprah’s Vegan Week & A Recipe for Moong Dhal

Watch Oprah’s show about thinking about what you eat and where it comes from here:

Although I was glad that Oprah did this show, and I appreciated Michael Pollan’s contributions, I was not happy with the way vegan eating was represented. The whole aura of the show was “doing without” and making substitutions. It looked and felt like everyone was on a strict diet. They seemed to view it this way, as well.

Our society is most familiar with a meat/starch/vegetable format for meals. Instead of looking at other meal formats, the vegan representative took one of Oprah’s producers on a grocery run which included only highly processed meat and dairy substitutes, and instructed the producer to cook what she normally would using these processed substitutes. If you are going to examine what you eat and where it comes from, you can’t simply raise your head enough to make substitutions and then stop there. There are meat substitutes that I enjoy and cook with – in moderation. You can’t, however, take the meat/starch/vegetable eating habits of our society and simply throw in a meat substitute and make a vegan. The reason everyone on the show was floundering is because of the way our society views meals and food. What can you make instead of your chicken dinner with peas and mashed potatoes? Interchange the chicken with a chicken-like soy product and use soy milk and butter-substitute in the mashed potatoes? Ugh. Please. You simply can’t live off of processed substitutes any more than you can live off any other processed food.

Ours is an animal-based eating format. To continue eating in this format without animal products is strict and diet-ish. No wonder everyone felt deprived. If you see the need to be cognizant of what you are putting in your body and where it comes from, you need to take the extra step and look at other eating formats the world over. You need to educate yourself and experiment with a variety of nutrient sources. Meat and dairy are two, out of hundreds, of nutrient sources on this earth. Consider that there are over 65 types of leafy greens, over 29 types of legumes, 15 types of sea vegetables, and over 50 types of root tubers – I’m not even getting into seeds and grains – each teeming with nutrients. To eliminate meat from your diet, you need to take a look at other meal formats.

My favorite eating format is Indian, which includes a wealth of whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Although some Indian cuisine features animal products, the Indian eating format is not animal-centric. To illustrate, in most cities in India, a restaurant will advertise that it is “non-vegetarian” – if it doesn’t specify, then it is assumed to be vegetarian, which is the norm.

I spent my high school years in Tanzania, which has a large Indian population. I was often at friends’ houses, watching their mothers make whole grain chapatis and moong dhal. Dhal is a sort of thick soup made of lentils, beans, or peas. There are as many recipes for dhal as there are households. Mung beans are highly prized in Ayurvedic cooking and are often used to make khichari, a nourishing dish for those who are ill.

When I make moong dhal, I eat it with quinoa, which is a high-protein grain. Each grain is smaller than a grain of rice, and round instead of oblong. Its taste is mild, like rice, but slightly nuttier. I cook mine in the rice cooker, using one cup quinoa to one cup water. Use the quinoa link above for cooking instructions on the stove top and quinoa recipes.

Moong Dhal Recipe


1 cup mung beans, rinsed well

2 garlic cloves or 1 tsp garlic powder (or more, to taste)

1 tsp red chile flakes

2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)

1/4 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil



If using garlic cloves, peel, smash, and dice the garlic, and saute in olive oil or coconut oil briefly over medium high heat. Add the chile flakes and turmeric, and heat for half a minute or so. If using garlic powder, add all spices at once to the oil and heat briefly. Add your mung beans, stir a bit, and then add 3 cups of water. When the water boils, lower heat to medium and let simmer 15 to 20 minutes, adding in your salt about half way through. You may need to add more water throughout the cooking time, so keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally. The beans should be quite soft when done, having absorbed all of the cooking liquid. I prefer mine this way, mostly whole, but partially smashed due to the stirring. Others like to place the beans in a processor, so that the dhal has a smooth consistency similar to split pea soup. Taste your dhal, then adjust seasonings as necessary.

Photo Credits: Photo by Dan at

Resources for a Compassionate Lifestyle

I took this photo at a beach in Tonga.Every year, my students find out I’m a vegetarian. They inevitably notice what I bring for lunch, or my gentle refusals to share in meat-based meals (read: pepperoni pizza parents bring for birthdays). They always ask me why.  One student explained to another, “She won’t eat anything with a face!” It’s true – I don’t eat meat or anything made with meat, which includes foods which contain gelatin (made of animal hooves) or rennet (made of stomach lining). My students are so sweet every year. They gradually learn – without any prompting or preaching from me – which foods have meat, gelatin, rennet, and the like. Children are often more accepting of personal choices than others – although a colleague of mine recently brought a vegan chocolate cake to our staff potluck because she was worried I wouldn’t get any dessert! Basically, I don’t eat or use anything which came from suffering animals, including milk or eggs which haven’t come from small, local, open farms which don’t send their animals to slaughter when they can no longer lay or produce milk. My best friend, B, and I call them ‘pain-free’ products. One of us will pick up something in the grocery store, and the other will say, “Is it pain-free?” Or, “Have you got pain-free eggs on the grocery list?” This includes non-food items, too, like shampoo and make-up. I know it’s good for the earth.  I know it’s good for me.  But really, even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t stand being the cause, or the monetary support, of another being’s suffering. That’s what it comes down to. If it gets too expensive, I eat something else. If it gets too time consuming to check labels and websites (finding sugar that hasn’t been filtered with bone was a bit trying) then I eat something else, or I do without. I can’t face being part of a chain of suffering. And that’s about it.

The Resources

Listed below are links to facts, recipes, articles, and BBC’s great “pitfalls” page, which lists slaughter by-products hidden in foods you might not be aware of.

  • Farm Sanctuary: This group “works to protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living.” Find facts, resources, and current campaigns.
  • Veg for Life: This is a Farm Sanctuary campaign. Find a wealth of resources for beginning vegetarians, in addition to helpful links like a directory for cruelty-free clothing. I love the FAQs section.
  • Tal Ronnen: Find recipes from and info about this vegan chef.