*Product Review*: Vegan Toona!

Tuna — a saltwater fish that is part of the mackerel family. The size of the fish can range, depending on the specific type. Are those quick, fun facts what come to your mind when you hear the word “tuna”? Yeah, me either. When we hear that word, most of us think of the minced flesh that comes in a can. But even that description may be off-putting to some– well, by some, I mean non-vegans. Because, like any sentient being, that minced mush in a can is indeed flesh.

Before going vegan, like a lot of non-vegans, I tried to eat more tuna and seafood on my initial route to health. Sea creatures do not usually contain large amounts of fat and most people view eating them as healthy– in fact, many people go pescatarian before going full-vegan. Or, they just stop there.

I was a big fan of canned tuna in my pre-vegan days. But thinking back on it now, filling a sandwich with tuna that is loaded with mayo isn’t necessarily #healthgoals. Either way, I hadn’t had tuna in about two years– that is, I hadn’t had any form of a vegan variation since going vegan. Until recently 🙂

Vegan tuna in all it’s canned glory.

First, a bit of the back story; when I was still in my exploratory vegan days (although those days don’t ever truly end, do they?) I happened to find some mock vegan tuna as part of a vegan “starter kit” online. I bought the kit (this was over a year ago), and I tossed the tuna in the cabinet because– well, that’s me. I was excited to try it, but wanted to “wait” to showcase it for whatever weird reason. I recently cleaned out the cabinets and saw that lonely lil’ can in the back, still unused. First, I thought about why I was so weird to wait to use this canned baby for so long (yes, really), then, I made a tuna sandwich!

The canned tuna I had was made by a brand called Sophie’s Kitchen. They make plant-based seafood which is amazing, because I love seeing plant-based seafood all over Vegan IG. I hope to try a lot more of their products in the future, but for now, I’m also trying to calm down on the processed goods, so it’ll have to wait. But check them out and see what they have to offer!

Now, for the nitty gritty– how did it taste? What was the flavor like? The texture?

Before I get to all those deets, I have to preface this with saying that anything that is vegan (with the exception of the amazing things they’re doing with the Impossible and Beyond Burgers as well as some seitan-based chick’n sandwiches) is usually never going to be an exact replica of what you were used to eating on an omni diet. You have to learn to adapt your palate a bit, as well as relish in the fact that something that is reallly close to what you used to eat (especially if you prepare it the same way) is still really delicious, and now, cruelty-free.

That being said, visually, I was pleasantly surprised. It actually looked like canned tuna. Not a carbon copy, but it could fool an omni, for sure. It was packed in olive oil, which was refreshing because actual tuna packed in oil is usually packed in vegetable oil, and I always thought that was weird because veggie oil seems more appropriate for cooking and not packing. It fell apart in chunks, and just looking at, I was a happy camper.

That black shadow in the back– Trey thought he was getting some toona too. Yeah, right.

Texture-wise, I was also happy. It felt like what I was used to eating when I ate a tuna fish sandwich! But then, is it truly that hard to replicate a minced meat texture? Something to think about! It was a little bit heavier, but not overly so.

The flavor was kinda scary. I know about some products, like kelp granules, that help to mimic that seafood flavor. And although this didn’t taste exactly like tuna fish, that seafood-y flavor was definitely there. It mixed well when I added other ingredients and mayo to it, and once all that was mixed together, it legit looked like meaty tuna.

All the flavor, none of the cruelty.

As I just mentioned, when eaten on it’s own (I took a few bites before adding anything else), it was a bit heavier in my mouth–not like a fully light seafood feel. That could have been because of the pea protein and/or potato starch bases I’m assuming, because that is what this mock delicious-ness is mostly made of.

So, at the end of it all, I’d definitely give this canned delight a 8/10 and I would hands down purchase it again. I think for transitioning vegans, it might take a bit before they feel comfty mixing it plain into a salad or eating it out of the can. For me, two years in, I’d gobble the can down plain– eh, I might add a little salt and pepper.

But for transitioning vegans looking for that comfort food feel of a delicious “tuna” fish sandwich slathered in mayo on bread– just imagine, you could be eating this, completely cruelty-free:

My Second Veganniversary!

Well, this is it. It’s certainly been another whirlwind year, filled with delicious vegan noms and chill vegan spots, but more importantly— actually, most importantly, have been the vegan realizations I’ve gone through. Indeed, this year could be coined the year of vegan realism.

You know how art has gone through different eras over time? Well, my veganism is pretty much doing the same thing. Last year, my first year being vegan, was my romanticism era. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to dive into veganism in all it’s glory. This new challenge of going vegan gave me something to strive for. Something to champion and hold onto. I wandered through this new world, eager to discover all the junkfood, mock meats and restaurants that made up this seemingly giant but actually very tight-knit community of veganism.

Noms from Rip’s Malt Shop, a delicious vegan eatery in Brooklyn.

I reveled in the wonders of my imagination, letting my mind and heart roam wild as I played chef, coming up with imaginative and beautifully plated meals that I still believe could rival some of the best influencers out there. I tried my hardest to break away from the societal norms of the standard American diet— a way of eating that I knew was making me sick, keeping me overweight and contributing to my subpar physical health. 

Seitan’s Helper’s chick’n cheeze steak sammie at their pop-up earlier this year.

And at that time, it was an easy thing to do. I had support from a pal who had been vegan for some time. My mom was totally fine with me going vegan, and I didn’t have to hear any drawn out speeches about health or not being able to accommodate my new « weird » diet. And time. I had so much time. When I first went vegan, I was working in the hospitality industry and I was a student. Both things that call for a lot of time and attention, but not at the peak levels that would soon come. So, in my free time, I decided to take on this new lifestyle full-speed. I turned my already existing foodie IG into a vegan page. I started a blog (fun fact: I’ve always been passionate about writing and blogging, and this is actually my second blog). And I decided I would not only utilize going vegan as a way to help myself, but also as a way to help others— animals, the planet, marginalized groups. Everything and everyone.

So that was it. My romantic, dreamy introduction to veganism.

And this year. Things got real.

Amazingly delicious early grey and *lavender* cake from Pisces Rising Vegan.

I’m still a student. In fact, I’ve been a student for the past five years straight, with no end on the near horizon. But this summer is when the realism era really kicked in. It was a whirlwind of school and training for one of the greatest occurrences in my life. The start of my career as a teacher. So, it’s been non-stop work. From sun up til’ sun down. Filled with times where I’ve been ecstatic, but also filled with times where I’ve doubted my abilities to complete anything. But I have been completing everything. And I continue to push myself. In addition to all the hard work, a lot more has happened in a year. As usual, here’s a quick recap of the year of vegan realism, and what I think the future of my vegan life will hold.

I Tried a lot More Vegan Food

This year was still filled with me trying a bunch of food from amazing places. I tried the delicious food at Rip’s Malt Shop, co-opened by a great entrepreneur, Eric, who okayed the making of an off-the-menu, “vegan girl nyc special”, featuring their bomb chopped cheeze, an NYC staple. I tried amazing noms from the fully women-run and owned Seitan’s Helper, I finally got to try amazing dessert noms from Pisces Rising Vegan, another women-owned opération that is absolutely splendid. And speaking of awesome women in power, I got to try some great food from Chef Chloe herself at her Supernatural pop-up earlier in the year. I was also able to try amazingly delicious food from a brand new restaurant, Spicy Moon— which is now one of my favorite new places to eat! I had an entirely vegan personal pie from a not entirely vegan pizzeria in my heart town of Queens, and I got to try even more delicious food at this year’s Vegandale festival, attending for my second year in a row. And that was just to name a few of the happenings stateside.

Beet Mac ‘n’ Cheeze from the brilliant mind of Chef Chloe Coscarelli— pink mac? I mean, c’mon!
Kung Pao tofu from Spicy Moon. Yes, yes and YES.

Oh yes, ya girl went international this year, leaving the country for the first time and traveling overseas to checkout the beautiful cities of London and Paris and alllll the vegan noms both cities had to offer! I’ve written all about my foodie travel in LDN, and my foodie adventures from Paris will be up bientôt. How it Got Real: as the summer drew near and once my first year of teaching began, my budget was as tight as ever. Dining out slowed down a lot. Luckily, I’d already gone through my blogger existential crisis of wondering if people would still like my page if I wasn’t showcasing bomb vegan noms from restaurants galore. Therefore, I no longer cared if people followed me for superficial reasons. I also had a handful of caring folks I’ve met along my life journey who took my very broke self out to eat and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Just one of the yummy dishes I tried at this year’s Vegandale festival.

I Kinda, Sorta Dated Someone for Like, ten Seconds

Romance (quickly) came and went this year. Just one of the many very real things that happened in my second year of vegan living.

Once I went back to school, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t date anyone because I didn’t want to be distracted from school. Once I graduated, I got into grad school. I made yet another pact that after working so hard to get into an amazing school, I wouldn’t screw it up with distractions of ANY kind. So dating was put on the back burner, again. Then, I graduated from grad school. What was next? More grad school. And teacher training. By this point, I was so happy and grateful for everything happening in my life, but I also thought “dang, can ya girl get a date or two?” Well, eventually I did. I met someone, and they weren’t vegan and I was 100% okay with that because if you follow my IG page, I’ve said plenty of times that dating a vegan isn’t necessarily a priority of mine. Things were fun and it was nice to be close to someone amidst the constant grind. How it Got Real: Things ended pretty quickly and it was both good and bad. I may have been in a relationship with someone who didn’t wanna be in a relationship. Or maybe they just didn’t wanna be in a relationship with me. I can only speculate, but I try not to because I enjoy my sanity. The point is, during our short-lived romance, instead of being straightforward, they took me on a roller coaster of weirdness that had more of an effect on my emotional and mental health than I liked, and that was a big no-no. Perhaps their propensity for being a big meanie had something to do with them not being vegan? Who knows, but either way, I’m super single, again.

I Started a Career

Teaching is amazing. I love it. It allows me to be creative and fits with my love of a delicate balance of being busy with so much on my plate set alongside the time to recoup and get back to my center. Some of my students in my first year love me. Some don’t care for me too much. But I love them all and it feels amazing to be able to watch them grow, academically and as humans. How it Got Real: Trying to be an amazing teacher while still being a student is absolutely possible but it’s hard work. Especially when you’re a new teacher. Before I started teaching, I’d heard it all from current and former teachers along the way. Some had principals leave in the middle of year. Some began their teaching careers mid-year with no prior teaching experience. Some worked in schools that ended up closing. This was all real and it taught them great lessons and helped mold them into great teachers. Luckily, I haven’t experienced any of those challenges, but I’ve been pulling on all that I can to be great because now, I don’t just have to be great for myself, but I have to be great for my students.

I Celebrated the Holidays as a Vegan… Again!

This is my second year of holiday celebrations as a vegan, and it’s actually okay. There are so many options for vegans that I don’t feel isolated at the thought of the end of the year and all the food to come. This one is actually not that bad— yet. How it’s Gonna Get Real: Traversing the holidays as a vegan hasn’t been too bad yet because I’ve still been celebrating small-scale. Outside of my immediate family is what I’m a bit nervous of. Will the holidays get bigger in the years to come? Will I have to gather around tons of family and/or friends at non-vegan gatherings? If so, I’ll probably be better prepared because I’ll be a veteran vegan at that point. If anything, the annoying part won’t be the food prep, it’ll be talking about being vegan. Answering questions about my life as a vegan and why I’ve chosen to eat and live this way.

Year deux of vegan holidays wasn’t too shabby.

So, you may ask how have all these year two events related to my being vegan? Well, I’ve had the wake-up call of settling into veganism as being my real-life. It’s not just vegan restaurants and festivals. It’s quick tofu scrams before class and work. It’s late night sandwiches thrown together because I’m hungry after getting out of class at 9:30pm. And yes, as a vegan I can make deli meat and cheeze sandwiches, complete with mayo 🙂 This hectic grind with food thrown in the mix because I have to eat is a familiar feeling for everyone, not just vegans. Life has been filled with moments of literally spending several minutes eyeballing a vending machine at school to find something that is both vegan and moderately healthy because I forgot (more like procrastinated) to meal prep because that’s life, and I have a three-hour class coming up that I can not possibly sit through in its entirety without being hungry.

Happy me in a chocolate shop in Paris!

I also still deal with stress eating. And although that hasn’t completely vanished, I’ve learned (and am still learning) how to turn to other things than eating to deal with stressful or hurtful or unpredictable occurrences, and also how to be present and choose healthier options whenever I do turn to food for comfort. My relationship with veganism has started to balance out and is now less about the “idea” of me being vegan and more about my regular relationship with food as I go through the complicated and exhilarating ride known as L I F E. It’s just that my food happens to be cruelty-free.

As I embark on year three of being vegan, I am really excited for what’s to come. I have no idea of what lies ahead, and that’s scary but also exciting. I still want to create recipes, and I have more than enough notes and scribbles for ideas to keep me busy whenever I find the time to do so. I’ve become less concerned with maintaining a perfect IG page aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still about a good-looking page, but if I manage to make a great meal and I get some pics of it, it’s going on the page whether or not it’s plated cute or on a fancy plate. And at the end of the day, I’m finding that to be more inspiring in many ways. I can plan for eternity, but deep down, I’m aware that I have to learn to enjoy the ride because life, even in the form of blogging, is gonna have its own plans for me— and if I can adapt to all that my crazy life has in-store for me, then I can certainly adapt to the roller coaster that is #bloggerlife.

~*I Can’t wait for year three!!!*~

Heart ballons image courtesy of Kristina Paukshtite via Pexels.com

Cranberry and pine cone image courtesy of Jessica Lewis via Pexels.com

Vegandale 2019!

Last year, during the peak of my new vegan life, I attended one of the best vegan food festivals around, Vegandale. I was extremely excited to be able to go to a vegan food festival– I’d made it my personal goal to get to as many vegan food events as I could that summer and hitting up Vegandale was an absolute dream.

One of my hands down top favorite dishes from last year’s festival— the buffalo mac and cheeze from Freakin’ Vegans, based in Jersey.

100% vegan food vendors from all over the country. It was amazing — tons of people, great vibes, music, lots of activities and lots of F O O D. Delicious and amazing food! I went in with the goal of trying foods from places that were not based in the New York City– that is, I only wanted to try food from vendors who were based in cities from around the country and outside of NYC. A nationwide food tour! I hit up spots from Chicago, Texas, Jersey, Toronto and more. It was insanity!

I was trying to stay away from food based out of NYC, but this was an exception. I had to try the mock oxtail from Chef Rootsie and her crew over at Veggie Grub!

This year, the festival’s back! Vegandale is coming to New York City again and they’ll be back at Randall’s Island Park on Saturday, September 28th, 2019. You don’t wanna miss out on trying some of the most innovative and just downright delicious vegan food you’ve ever seen. I’m telling you, it truly is a feast for the eyes as much as the stomach. I tried so much amazing food and of course, I chronicled everything on my Instagram page — so much food that I literally had to bring containers with me so I could take food home 😀 I wasn’t complaining though; who would when you have an abundance of decadent vegan noms to nosh on for days, long after the festival is over?

One of the only vendors from outside of the United States— The Vegan Outlawz came all the way from Switzerland and bought their bomb BBQ kebab sandwiches with them!

Okay, the supply didn’t last me as long as I would have liked, but that was due to me being greedy — what can I say, I’m a true (vegan) foodie at heart!

Head over to www.vegandalefest.com to get tickets for this year’s festival at the current discounted rates! And check out their Instagram page — not only can you go gaga over all the drool-inducing noms on their page, but you can also get tickets via the link in their bio.

This beautiful scoop of fig and apple flavored ice cream topped with toasted aquafaba was brought to us by Chef Nick Di Bona over at Bona Bona Ice Cream, based in Port Chester, New York.

September 28th is right around the corner, so start preparing to experience some of the best vegan food you’ve ever tried! And I might just see you out there!

Eco-Friendly Menstrual Solutions– Period.

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been wanting to write about my period for quite some time. The ups, the downs, and everything in-between. So, here it goes– my journey to trying to make my period more eco-friendly.

But, before I begin, I’ll start with a disclaimer:

I won’t cover absolutely everything about the history of my period in this post. Honestly, I could write an entire thesis on what I’ve been through with my cycle— but I will touch on most of the major stuff that’s happened in the past several years. I also included a random af but pretty encompassing summary in the last paragraph in case you don’t want to read an entire blog post about my menstrual cycle. Feel free to email me through this blog or message me on Instagram if you’d like more info about my period.

Whoa… that sounded kinda creepy, but you know what I mean 🙂

A (not so) Brief Period History.

I’ll start by acknowledging that all these issues may have been condensed into a smaller time-frame if it weren’t for my overall laziness and lack of taking immediate action whenever something happens with my health. For the most part, I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to this, but in the past, I was definitely the type to “wait and see what happens”, no matter what happened.

For years I had really heavy periods that slowly got progressively heavier, accompanied by really crappy pain — as in, picture really horrible cramps, then, turn the dial up another notch or two. I would go through overnight pads in a matter of hours — not overnight. When I finally did see a gynecologist, I ended up on birth control and was diagnosed with menorrhagia — a fancy name for bleeding waaay too much when you’re on your period. I was also informed that I had both ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids.

You can imagine how much fun I was having at this appointment.

Ovarian cysts are common among many child-bearing aged woman, but the fibroids— which are actually benign tumors (that also appear during child-bearing years), are way more common among African-American women. I have no idea why and I don’t think the medical community does either. But I digress.

In the land of birth control, all was well. I had really clear skin and much lighter periods. I had to set about 100 alarms to remind myself to take it at the same time everyday, but once I got the hang of that, it was all good. Or so I thought…

… One day a few years ago, around the time I started trying to take control of my health, I was on my period and I decided to look up the side effects of birth control. It was horrifying. Now, the internet has the power to make anyone think they’re dying for any reason, but the stuff I was reading just wasn’t sitting well with me, especially not at this point in my life and health journey. Something inside just told me that I didn’t wanna be on birth control anymore.

Also, at this point in the aforementioned journey, I’d already decided that if one takes control of their diet and lifestyle, they have more control over certain health issues than they may think. So, although I wasn’t vegan yet, I felt I could maybe deal with a heavy period sans medication. 

Not so coincidentally, at my next gyno visit, the results of my ultrasound showed something amazing: my fibroids had shrunk significantly and my cysts were now completely gone.

You may be thinking … “Wtf?” Or “that’s amazing!” Either one would be applicable and totally understandable.

I definitely believe that my changes in lifestyle and diet played a role in here somewhere— I ate horribly before getting healthy, and who knows what kinds of hormones and chemicals were affecting my poor uterus. But personally, I also believe in higher powers, so I gave a heartfelt shoutout to the universe on this miraculous occurrence as well. From there, I listened to my intuition and told my gyno I wanted off birth control for good. She obliged, but my heavy period journey was far from over.

No More Meds, and I Went Vegan… but the Heavy Bleeding Continued

As time went on, my periods were still heavy. I no longer experienced horrible cramps and pain as badly as I did before, but I was still going through pads more often than I felt I should. My thoughts were “oh crap, nothing has changed– what do I do now?” Even after going vegan, I didn’t notice immediate changes in my cycle.

Navigating period products has been an
interesting and thought-filled journey to say the least.*

Making My Period Eco-Friendly (and Later, Low-Waste)

Nonetheless, I started slowly trying to change everything I used for health, beauty and otherwise over to more eco-friendly options (hence the existence of this section of my blog). I think part of my thought process with my period products was that I really had to try everything I could think of to fix the heavy bleeding issue. If I had already changed my diet and was more physically active, I guess now I had to focus on the products I was using. I started buying eco-friendly pads and tampons around last winter. I was amazed to see that the price was the same as regular sanitary products– which frankly, contain stuff I do not want in my vagina. 

I felt content that I’d made an eco-friendly switch, but I wanted to do more. So, several months ago, as I was scrolling through vegan Instagram, I came across an ad for a free menstrual cup. I thought “this is it! This is my chance to try a menstrual cup!”

Using a menstrual cup was a great experience– although it wasn’t right for me, I’m happy I tried it.

I’d heard about the cup years ago when the famous Diva brand made the menstrual cup a household normality, but I had all sorts of reservations about using one— but still, I got the cup and tried it out on my next period. I chronicled the journey in my Instagram stories and highlights. The first cycle using it wasn’t too bad. Aside from the annoyance of getting used to putting the actual cup inside of me— and taking it out for that matter, when it was in place, it worked well. But sometimes it would move around, and that was a little uncomfortable.

Then, one day… it flipped. Both literally and figuratively.

The cup turned sideways inside of me. I was home when it happened which was a huge relief— I also had a pad on as a safety net. This very inconvenient occurrence shook me a bit. I envisioned every possible worse case scenario:

What if this had happened while I was on the train?

Or at work and on my feet?

Or I was nowhere near a bathroom?

What if I hadn’t been wearing a pad? (highly unlikely but still within the realm of possibility)

It freaked me out so much that I didn’t use the cup for the rest of that day. Or the rest of that cycle. I finished out that period with my eco-friendly pads and tampons. By the time my next cycle arrived, I tried the cup once more. I used it on my heaviest day, hoping for the best. But I could tell the spark was gone. I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. I used it for a few hours at most that day and that was the end of the cup and I’s short-lived relationship. I know there are tons of shapes and sizes available for menstrual cups, but I just didn’t feel enough motivation to try cup after cup.

However, this mishap contributed to zero discouragement in my period journey. I knew there was a chance I might not like the cup, and the fact that I got to try it for free calmed my nerves even more.

What was more concerning was wondering what my next step was. I really wanted to conquer having a low-waste, eco-friendly period; yes, I was using non-chemically treated, cotton products — but I felt like that just wasn’t enough, mainly because it was far from low-waste.

More time passed, and a page I follow on Instagram that makes reusable pads ended up having a huge flash sale.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern of me trying to acquire products for cheap and/or free? 😀

This was yet another option I’d been aware of, but had been waiting for the right time to try it. Or maybe more like, had been too lazy to getting around to try it? Either way, a 50% off flash sale definitely seemed like the right time.

Too cute for words. Some of my favorite reusable, cotton-based pads.

I was eager to see how the reusable pads would go over— I had a bunch of questions like: how would I store a soiled pad when I was in public and needed to change it? Were they truly absorbent? How long could I wear one before I had to change it? And so many more…

When they finally arrived, I was immediately obsessed. Mainly because I was in love with the prints! But I didn’t buy them to have cute pads… okay, having cute pads did factor in a bit, but the point was low-waste, eco-friendly periods… period.

Too Many Variables— but they Happened at the Right Time.

Now, I’ve gotta back track a bit, because this part is kinda crucial to the story. In May of this year, I turned 32. Why is that relevant? Well, as you may (or may not) know, as women get older, their periods will often get lighter. You may not (or may) notice drastically lighter periods overnight, but this is relevant for my story because as mentioned, I had a history of ridiculously heavy periods. But a couple of months before I turned 32, my periods were noticeably lighter. I couldn’t say with 100% certainty that it was only the age factor because there were just way too many variables:

  • I’d been eating about an 80% whole foods, plant-based diet for several months at this point (so very little processed foods and practically no mock meat at all… like, I stopped buying it completely)
  • I had become very physically active— I even took up running before I suffered an injury last winter.
  • I’d been vegan for a year and a half, so for all I knew, my body could have decided to just start adjusting to my new vegan lifestyle via my cycle (this one is actually very plausible because I know and have read stories from so many women who claim their periods got lighter after going vegan).

The entire paragraph above was written for the purpose of me saying this:

I don’t know if I would be as happy as I am with reusable pads if my period were still as heavy as it was in the past. But I love them now. They’re absorbent af and they work amazingly. So, my period journey has a happy ending. I’m still working out a few kinks like: changing and storing the reusables in public and washing and drying them as soon as possible, but overall they’re great. I’m thrilled that I found a low-waste solution for my period. I’m supplementing the use of the cotton pads with tampons, but cutting my waste in half makes me very proud, and I am constantly reminding myself that this is a baby-step journey, as it should be.

Here’s a Final Recap — or a Summary for the Slackers…

  1. Super heavy periods > Menorrhagia nightmare > birth control saved me, but the chemicals had to go > I started trying to find natural ways to lighten my period and eventually I ended up also trying to make my period more eco-friendly and low-waste.
  2. My first route was changing over to chemical-free, natural, cotton sanitary products > I felt great because I knew I was immediately eliminating placing chemicals inside my body, which I had apparently been doing for almost two decades— ew.
  3. Next, I focused on low-waste > I tried the menstrual cup and it was unsuccessful for me; there were too many grey areas.
  4. Then, I tried reusable pads and I loved them > I settled on a combo of the reusable pads and chemical-free, cotton tampons.

And that’s it! That’s my journey so far. Oh, and PS – full disclosure: I’m a visual person, so going in to change my pad and seeing a bloody Jaws kinda gives me a much needed chuckle when I have cramps and am bleeding from my uterus.

* Menstrual products image courtesy of Vanessa Ramirez via Pexels.com

Best New Vegan Food Blogger? That Could be me!

I want to first say thanks to all who read and subscribe to my blog! I love you and think you’re awesome and amazing for being vegan or being interested in the vegan lifestyle, or an eco-friendly lifestyle or even just my personal vegan journey!

That being said, I’m nominated in a vegan awards this year that’s been put together by One Bite Vegan! I’m nominated in the category of “Best New Vegan Food Blogger”. I’m excited because I truly love blogging and it’s even better that I get to blog about topics I’m really passionate about. I love writing also and being able to entertain and/or inform through my writing is what I think my gift to the world really is!

Follow me on Instagram at “thevegangirlnyc” and follow One Bite Vegan at “one_bite_vegan”.

I would love and appreciate it so much if you could go vote for me in that category! To vote, simply go here:

https://onebitevegan.com/one-bite-vegan-food-blogger-awards-2019/

You DO NOT have to vote in every category! Voting ends on APRIL 30, 2019!! Once you vote, you’ll be automatically entered to win a brand new Vitamix Ascent Series A2500!!! Talk about incentive! So go! Go vote for me now! Best new vegan blog category! Gooooo!

This beautiful new Vitamix (valued at over $500!) could be all yours— so go vote for me noooow!

Why I Ditched Chocolate (sort of)

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate. Well, my mom has actually always hated chocolate. And if you’re allergic you probably aren’t a fan of it either. Oh, and it’s also toxic to cats and can even be fatal if they ingest a bunch of it. But the point is, most people do enjoy chocolate, myself included.

Even though I’ve been a chocolate fan my whole life, I’ve always been picky about the types of chocolate I consumed. For some reason, I never liked chocolate cake, and I also don’t like chocolate ice cream. Growing up (and still to this day) my favorite forms of chocolate were brownies, muffins (which do not taste the same as cake!) and candies of all sorts– chocolate bars filled with practically whatever, truffles, and pretty much anything that was covered in chocolate, especially pretzels.

Huge, decadent and delicious vegan chocolate muffin — my first 100% vegan treat when I began my path toward veganism.

Going down this chocolate memory lane is indeed nostalgic, and makes it even more obvious as to why I was extremely proud of myself when, after going vegan, I managed to cut out chocolate just like that. I guess I didn’t necessarily have to do this because I live in one of the vegan capitals of the world, where practically any food that exists can be found in vegan form. But the first several months of being vegan was filled with me trying to navigate this new world of eating and my thoughts really weren’t “where can I find vegan chocolate?”. And anyway, before I officially went vegan and I was still in my “vegan trial period”, I actually did have a decadent, giant chocolate muffin from a vegan bakery– and like most omni’s trying vegan junk food for the first time, I was shocked that something that good was vegan.

But as time went on, I eventually tried vegan chocolate in all its glory– not only chocolate treats but I’d had several types of granola bars featuring chocolate that were made by some of the big names in vegan snacks.

However, a few months ago, I started following an organization on Instagram called the Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P). Their goal is to bring awareness to food accessibility throughout the world, and they also shine a light on food injustices in the form of child labor and/or slavery in food production, and how the food choices we make affect the environment, animals and people.

I loved what they were about because it aligned with what I was about and what I wanted to learn about and spread awareness of in the vegan community and perhaps more importantly, outside of the vegan community. One day, a specific post on their Instagram page caught my eye and it prompted me to download the associated app that the F.E.P had created– it had to do with none other than: chocolate.

According to the F.E.P, chocolate, or more specifically, cocoa production, was an industry that had a huge hand in utilizing child and/or slave labor. As a person of color, this was disturbing to me on a personal level, especially being that my Instagram and blog were built on a premise of intersectional veganism, where the injustices of one group are intertwined with the injustices of many groups. I couldn’t continue to fight for the rights of animals and not do something to show that I was also against the exploitation of children and others who were being utilized as slaves in many African countries.

The app that the F.E.P created, called the Chocolate List was meant to be used as a resource to discover which brands of chocolate are sourced ethically and which brands are not. The below screenshot is an example– there are three sections on the app; “R” stands for recommended, “NR” stands for not recommended, and “M” stands for mixed meaning that the brand uses ethically sourced cocoa for some of its products but not all of them. Even with this powerhouse list available to me, I was a little perplexed about some things, which prompted me to start doing my own research.

Screenshot of the Chocolate List app for iOS, created by the Food Empowerment Project.

I’d go to a store and decide I wasn’t gonna buy chocolate from brands that weren’t recommended, but at the same time I’d see some of those not recommended brands with labels slapped across them like “fair trade certified”.

It was confusing to say the least.

I wondered why these brands were not on the recommended list when I’d read so much information that stated that fair trade farms did not use slave labor. In addition to that, some of these brands stated directly on their website that their chocolate was, in fact, sourced ethically via fair trade farms.

So what was going on? Why was the information from the brands conflicting with the information from the F.E.P?

I decided I had to go straight to the source to uncover where the disconnect was. I emailed the F.E.P and anxiously awaited their response as to why some brands that publicly stated they used ethically sourced cocoa were being place on the not recommended list by the F.E.P. When I received a response to my email, the result was quite unfortunate but it opened my eyes further to the lies we are told everyday by the people who run the largest companies and corporations in the world.

An employee and rep for the F.E.P explained that the companies on the “NR” list are there because they source their cocoa from countries and regions “…where the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, is most prevalent.”

You see, the F.E.P creates their ethically sourced cocoa list “…based on the country of origin… and not “…on certifications based on how problematic they have been found to be.”

Apparently, some fair trade certified farms still utilize child slave labor even with the fair trade certification. How is that possible? I wondered the same thing. I presume it all goes back to politics and the bottom line which is money and production of the product. An unfortunate truth. Sure, the farmers in Africa may have a small say in the use of this illegal labor– but most of that weight should come upon the huge corporations that are using these farms– it is they who have the resources to ensure that the cocoa they need is produced under ethical standards. These companies absolutely have the manpower and money to ensure that proper wages and working conditions are in place, and that child slave labor is not used on these farms, especially if those farms have already undergone the process of declaring themselves “fair trade”.

Chocolate is a sweet treat that most of us enjoy — but at what cost?

In the same response email, the F.E.P employee suggested that I watch Shady Chocolate, a documentary that showcases the ills of cocoa production within the industry. I was also given another resource to seek out; a report that was released last May: The Global Business of Forced Labour Report of Findings— this report showcases how prevalent child and slave labor, human trafficking and even kidnapping have been in West African countries that are key players in the cocoa industry. In the report, linked above, the cocoa industry findings begin on page 26.

I watched the documentary, eager to learn more. I had already committed to not eating chocolate from brands on the NR list, but the documentary sealed the deal for me. It was sickening to see the normalization of child and slave labor, and to see footage of a child crying after being trafficked to a neighboring country via bus, dropped off and left there to eventually be exploited for slave labor.

Please watch the documentary. I truly believe that it may spark something in you to want to purchase your chocolate more responsibly. This issue goes to the very heart of everything I believe in and am fighting for. When we have so many options available to us in 2019 when it comes to purchasing and enjoying products that contain cocoa responsibly, why would we pay people to use child and slave labor just so we can enjoy something sweet for a few moments?

I also urge you to download the app and use it as a resource when buying chocolate products. I feel the need to mention that this is completely unsponsored, but instead is stemming from my own journey and experience as I learn more about everything we buy and take into our bodies.

If you’re reading this, then you are likely blessed to have many resources available to you to that allow you to live, survive and even thrive in your life, such as a place to live, a phone, and food to eat. But chocolate is not a necessity in life– it is a luxury. That is all the more reason why you should try to purchase it responsibly. Don’t pay to support child labor and slavery. Once I understood that this is what I was doing, I knew I could no longer continue to do it with a clear conscious, especially not for a luxury food item.

Thank you for reading this blog post and please use your time and energy to seek out more responsible ways to get your food. Visit the links in the above paragraphs as a start to learn more. It all begins with us and as previously mentioned, we have a wealth of options available in this world to cause the least harm possible when it comes to what’s on our plates, so why not give it a shot?

Close-up chocolate image courtesy of Pixabay via Pexels.com.

*Product Review*: The Impossible Burger

So, I finally tried the Impossible Burger. I say that with a tinge of guilt because there is some debate within the vegan community as to whether or not this burger is a legit plant-based meat substitute. Not because of the way it tastes, but because of how it’s been created.

So, before I get to the review, let’s start from the beginning…

Impossible Foods launched back in 2016, revolutionizing the vegan food market with the Impossible Burger— a plant-based burger made with their exclusive, primary ingredient, soy leghemoglobin. Supposedly, this burger looked, tasted and felt like the “real” thing — or what omnivores know to be a burger when it is comprised of beef derived from cows. It was a hit– all over vegan Instagram were pictures of the vegan bleeding burger. What was responsible for that redness that made it look like you had a medium to medium-well burger on your plate? You guessed it; that key ingredient of soy leghemoglobin.

This isn’t an Impossible Burger– but the Impossible is pretty dang close. Now, you can have your burger juicy, meaty and cruelty-free.

Sound great so far?

Well, it almost was until it was revealed that Impossible Foods had conducted animal testing using lab rats to create this phenomenal new burger.

What?!?

Why would they need to conduct animal testing to create a vegan burger? And doesn’t that go against the values of the vegan community? Like not harming animals? And being cruelty-free?

Good point. Yes. Yes. And yes.

To answer everything inquiring minds wanted to know (myself included), the CEO of Impossible Foods released an official statement for the company entitled The Agonizing Dilemma of Animal Testing. The statement explained (in part) that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specific requirements when it comes to “uncommon ingredients” getting the stamp of approval for human consumption. Impossible Foods’ exclusive heme protein, soy leghemoglobin, was indeed considered an uncommon ingredient. To meet the rigorous requirements of the FDA, Impossible Foods decided that they would conduct experiments using animal testing to ensure the FDA that the protein was safe for humans to eat.


“The billions of people around the world who love meat and fish and dairy foods will not be persuaded to stop consuming these foods by pleading or arguing or encouraging them to try a plant-based diet.”

Pat Brown, The Agonizing Dilemma of Animal Testing

I highly suggest reading the statement (linked in the previous paragraph) because if you read it with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart, you may see the bigger picture that Pat Brown, the CEO of Impossible Foods, likely has. According to Brown, heme, an iron-containing compound that gives beef that distinct taste and flavor is essential to creating meat substitutes because omnivores crave that taste and flavor. This is an argument I am totally here for because one of my motivating factors as a plant-based recipe developer is that flavors and seasoning and texture are what we are really looking for when we eat our food — we don’t need animal flesh to get that stuff! In addition to their mission to recreate beef flavors in plant-based burgers, Impossible Foods does purposely and specifically seek to change the way omnivores look at vegan food. According to a rep for the company at the recent Natural Foods Expo West convention in California, Impossible Foods’ audience is a “meat-eater” and so they “target first and foremost” just that… meat-eaters.1

Initially, when I discovered the animal testing scandal, I was totally anti-Impossible. I hadn’t tried the burger yet and I didn’t plan on doing so. I even messaged a popular vegan chef when I saw him partaking of an Impossible burger in one of his stories, essentially asking him if he thought it was an ethically okay choice to consume that burger given the animal testing. He ignored me. And I’m glad he did. And by the way, if that vegan chef ever happens to read this and you remember me messaging you about your burger, I’m sorry I bothered you but I was very much in my feelings about that lab testing. I’ve since reconciled our relationship, and at this point, my views on the matter have shifted– quite a bit actually.

Hopefully, animal testing in labs because of FDA restrictions will one day be a thing of the past.

Similar to a point I made in my last blog post about boycotting businesses that don’t meet many of our ethical and moral vegan standards, the same idea applies here. I now feel we have to look at the bigger picture and fight for the greater good. Sometimes we have to make small sacrifices to achieve astronomical results. Losing the life of a few to save the lives of hundreds of thousands is still a difficult choice, but it’s one that does show hope and progress toward a place that is so much better than the one we are in now. Impossible Foods is working toward a vegan revolution, and I think all vegans can agree that this is definitely something we can get behind. This may not be everyone’s view but it’s where I stand, and judging by the success of the Impossible Burger, it’s the mindset of many other vegans as well.

With that, let’s get on to the review part! First, let me say that I’m a BIG burger fan. I’ve been obsessed with burgers since I was a kid, so trying the many vegan versions that exist has been intriguing but in the back of my mind, I always knew these burgers had large buns– I mean shoes, to fill. I know, I know– insert corny joke here.

I tried the Impossible Burger via the slider version that is being sold at White Castle. Wow. It’s good. It’s really good. Everything they promise is there: “meaty flavor” and texture are on point for sure. It would taste a lot better with some vegan cheese, but then again, what doesn’t taste better with cheese? But even without the cheese, it stands up to the challenge of recreating a great, flavorful burger that is cruelty-free. It’s also filling — I had my sliders with fries but tried to focus on eating the sliders first to get the flavor profile and see how it went down in my tummy. The pieces were grinding apart in my mouth the same way I remember ground beef doing, and it’s weird because while chewing, some parts reminded me of meat but then other times I could tell it wasn’t meat– but I’m unsure if the latter part was psychological and simply a byproduct of me knowing that I was, in fact, eating plants.

Impossible Burger sliders at White Castle– yup, they’re legit.

Honestly speaking, I believe this burger would hands down fool a hungry omnivore, however, it isn’t a doppelganger for beef. Upon closer inspection, you can definitely tell it’s a plant-based substitute. Personally, that doesn’t bother me one bit, and I know a lot of vegans actually prefer that, as a reminder of the dead and likely tortured animals they used to consume is not something they want on their plates. But again, the goal is to convert as many omnis as possible– and we have to bring them in with what they know to be familiar already.

I really want to try this in a bigger burger form, so I might even do a second part to this review when I get a chance to have another Impossible Burger. And now is the perfect time to do so, because in January of this year, Impossible Foods released the Impossible Burger 2.0— an updated, gluten-free version of the patty. I’m excited to try it and I’m looking forward to seeing what Impossible Foods will come up with next. Have you already tried the Impossible Burger? What did you think? Do you have an opinion on Impossible Foods conducting animal testing to get the green light on the burger? Let me know in the comments below!

References:

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbf-Mz7-0mU (begins at 5:00; video courtesy of The Vegan Zombie)

https://vegnews.com/2017/8/impossible-foods-ceo-speaks-out-about-animal-testing

https://vegnews.com/2019/1/impossible-foods-unveils-impossible-burger-20

https://impossiblefoods.app.box.com/s/27skctwxb3jbyu7dxqfnxa3srji2jevv

Burger and fries image courtesy of Engin Akyurt via Pexels.com

Lab image courtesy of Pixababy via Pexels.com