Peace Out Plastic!

Beginning March 1, 2020, the Bag Waste Reduction law went into affect in NYC. Although I’d been following the law as it went through it’s early stages in the legislation process, so much had been going on in the past couple of weeks that it completely slipped my mind when March 1st actually rolled around.

But once all the craziness was subdued, it took actually seeing this legislation in action in two stores for me to realize the amazingness that had finally taken place:

NO MORE PLASTIC BAGS IN NEW YORK CITY!

This new law doesn’t only affect those in the five boroughs, it applies to any retailer that collects New York State taxes.

And so, W O W.

I’m so exited and happy to be living during a time where veganism is bursting through the seams of major corporations and where taking care of our ecosystem is becoming part of the law.

However, this thought was also accompanied by the horrific realization that the massive amount of destruction we’ve done to our home has also taken place in my lifetime, and we are now in the early stages of damage control.

But I won’t linger on the bad news…

If we’re not careful with all the plastic, this sort of scene may very well be in the near future.

This is a truly gratifying time to be alive and I can’t wait to see the stats that will undoubtedly pop-up after this new law has been in place for awhile, regarding how much less plastic waste is in our city. No more gross bags hanging high in tree branches, or floating in our natural waterways or in the parks. So much less waste in landfills. And realistically, I think a lot of people may simply not purchase as much as they were before because they don’t have the ease of plastic bags.

However, that last one could be a blessing and a curse— without as many purchases, there could be something in store to try to lure people into opening up their wallets as much as they previously did. But let’s look on the bright side— maybe another stimulus package is on the way? 🙂

Another benefit that is admittedly quite personal, but still great nonetheless, will be not feeling slightly weird when bringing all my reusables to the grocery store. Although it didn’t bother that much, I would feel slightly weird and as if all eyes were on me when I’d take extra time packing my own groceries into bags instead of letting the store staff pack the stuff for me quickly and swiftly into plastic bags. Not anymore!

And finally, another eco friendly tip for all the folks out there, but especially my fellow NYC dwellers— while you’re stocking up on reusable bags, purchase some reusable produce bags as well! I’ve had my produce bags for some time now, and have barely used them (eeek!), but now? It’s gonna be a fruit and veggie bonanza in here!

Reusable produce bags are yet another way to help rid the earth of waste.

Not only are reusable produce bags another great way to reduce plastic, they also help solve a problem that hasn’t yet found a solution in all groceries and markets because in-store (plastic!) produce bags are still-a-go. Additionally, there are many types of plastic bags that are exempt from the new law. Boo. But baby steps are better than no steps.

While briefly discussing the new “no plastic” policy with my mom, she mentioned that using good old paper bags is how they used to carry groceries “back in the day”. I excitedly exclaimed “I know!” A bit later, it truly sank in— although there are many things I wouldn’t want to bring back from past decades, the simpler, cleaner ways that some tasks were carried out are certainly welcome back.

I can’t wait to see what other eco friendly things the city will come up with!

Please visit the Department of Environmental Conservation for more information and for outreach resources regarding the Bag Waste Reduction law.

#BYOBagNY

Plastic bag garbage image courtesy of Juan Pablo via Pexels.com

Plastic wasteland image courtesy of Stijn Dijkstra via Pexels.com

Fried Tofu Strips

Fried chicken is a southern staple in the US. It’s also an extremely popular food in the Black community. So, I’ve had my fair share of fried chicken over the years, pre-vegan. When I went vegan, it was crazy to experience fried « chicken ». I couldn’t believe (and still can’t believe) that I was having something that I couldn’t ever imagine being able to enjoy as a vegan. I know I haven’t had even a modicum of the fried « chicken » that so many brilliant vegan chefs and minds have created, but I wanted to contribute in some small way by making my own version of something that could easily be made at home. It absolutely mimics the flavor of fried meat… is it as good as the fried chick’n I’ve tried so far? That’s debatable. Is it healthier that any fried chick’n I’ve tried so far? Also debatable. Did I make several test batches and eat most of them in one sitting, by myself? Abso-frickin-lutely.

ATTENTION: This recipe requires 24 hours of prep time! Please plan accordingly!

What You’ll Need:

For the Dry Batter:

  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour (gluten-free flour can also be used)
  • 3 tbsp seasoning salt
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp parsley

Wet Ingredients:

  • 4 flax eggs: about 3 tbsp water + 1 tbsp flax seeds = 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Other Ingredients:

1 package of extra firm, organic tofu

What to Do:

Step six, slice the tofu once down the middle horizontally while it is laying flat.
  1. Freeze the entire pack of extra firm tofu overnight, or for at least 24 hours until fully frozen.
  2. Take the tofu out of the freezer and let it thaw fully– you can speed up the thawing process by placing the package of tofu in a bowl of hot water. Most of the time, I took it out before leaving in the morning, letting it thaw until I returned home for the day.
  3. Once tofu has fully thawed, open package and drain of water completely.
  4. Wrap the block of tofu in a thin cloth or with a few paper towels and press the tofu of any additional water for about 3-5 minutes. While the tofu is wrapped up, use a tofu press or something with weight to help drain the excess water.
  5. After pressing, let the tofu sit for an additional 15-20 minutes to air dry (I know, this recipe requires a lot of prep time, but it’s worth it! :-)). The tofu should be as dry as possible– this is very important, otherwise the water will seep out and change the flavor of the fried strips.
  6. Slice the tofu once down the middle horizontally while it is laying flat. Keep the two pieces together and slice the tofu vertically 4-5 times. You should have 8-10 evenly sliced tofu strips.
  7. Set tofu strips aside and prepare the flax eggs. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the ratio of water with flax seeds (3 tbsp:1 tbsp) x4 to create 4 flax eggs. Whisk together with a fork. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes to thicken. You may need to add an additional 1/2 to one tbsp of water if the mixture becomes too thick (you want it to be slightly slimy).
  8. While the flax egg is thickening, prepare the dry ingredients to create the fry batter. In a large bowl, combine the flour, paprika, garlic powder, dried parsley and seasoning salt. Whisk together thoroughly until well mixed.
  9. Placed the entire amount of the vegetable oil in a medium-sized frying pan (a large pan can be used, but may cause the oil to be too shallow– add about 1/8 cup more oil if using a large pan).
  10. Heat the oil over medium heat (about 3-5 minutes; test by dropping a very tiny water droplet in the oil to see if it sizzles– DO NOT stand over the oil when testing if it’s hot); while oil is heating, check the flax eggs. Remember, they should be only slightly gelatinous and a little slimy– not too thick.
  11. Create an assembly line of flax egg then the dry batter mixture, then the frying pan.
  12. Gently place one tofu strip into the flax eggs and turn to lightly fully coat. I used one hand for the flax eggs and one for the dry batter so that the dry batter didn’t become too clumpy in the bowl and on my hand as I continued to dip strips.
  13. Gently bring the coated strip over to the dry batter and fully coat.
  14. Gently bring the strip over to the frying pan and place it on one side of the pan.
  15. Place about 3-5 strips of coated tofu into the frying pan, about 1/2 inch apart.
  16. Fry each piece for approximately 4-5 minutes on one side, turn the strip over and fry that side for an additional 3-5 minutes.
  17. Use tongs to gently remove each strip, and place it on a dish or in a container that has been lined with thin clothes or paper towels to drain the strips of excess oil.
  18. Let cool for several minutes, then, transfer to a serving dish.
  19. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, serve and enjoy! These strips taste amazing with my tangy aioli– you can find that recipe here.

Date Posted on Instagram: 8/1/2019

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

Lazy Scalloped Potatoes

My recipes are meant to be simple and quick, so when I thought to myself: how can I make scalloped potatoes easier and vegan? this lil’ recipe came to mind. No baking, quick prep and process, and best of all, it tasted extremely decadent. I’ve raved about potatoes many times. They’re a really versatile food and they can be transformed into practically anything. I mean, you start out with a big, round and hard potato, and end up with golden, crisp and soft fries. What kind of magical sorcery is that? And fries are just one of the foods these babies can transform into… tater tots, pancakes, hash browns, I could go on and on, but I won’t because I’m getting hungry. Also, this recipes incorporates my super easy thick and cheezy sauce recipe, which I also use to make mac ‘n’ cheeze.

What You’ll Need:

For the Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (x3) plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)

For the Potato Dish:

  • 1 large potato
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp essential seasoning blend*
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
Seasoned potato slices all lined up and ready to go.

What to Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice the potato into thin slices ( I was able to yield about 20 slices from my potato –not potato chip thin, but thin).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, olive oil and essential seasoning blend and toss until well mixed.
  4. Place potato slices evenly about 1/2 an inch apart on a large sheet tray lined with aluminum foil.
  5. Place tray of potatoes in oven for approximately 10-13 minutes, making sure not to burn them.
  6. While potatoes are cooking in the oven, start the cheeze sauce.
  7. Heat a medium to large sized skillet over low heat.
  8. Add butter and melt over low heat.
  9. Very slowly, begin to add the flour, about 1/3 of the whole 1/4 cup at a time; Use a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) to stir flour into the butter as you add it to the skillet. Stir continuously until all flour has been thoroughly mixed into butter and the entire 1/4 cup has been added.
  10. Reduce heat to a very low simmer– almost as low as you can get the flame without turning it off.
  11. Add the first 1/4 of almond milk and stir slowly into the roux until completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  12. Add the second 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step, stirring slowly until the milk is completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  13. Add the third 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step.
  14. The sauce will start to form now and should be nice and thick.
  15. Return the heat to low.
  16. Add the nutritional yeast and salt and stir into the cheeze sauce until fully blended. Continue stirring sauce for approximately 1 minute, then, remove from heat but keep the sauce in the skillet and on the stove burner.
  17. Remove potato slices from oven and let cool on the side while you finish prepping the sauce. Remove the aluminum foil with the potato slices from the sheet tray to cool faster or place the potato slices on a wire rack.
  18. You have two options here: 1) you can remove half the sauce from the skillet now and store it for later use**, or 2) you can follow the next step with all the cheeze sauce still inside the skillet, although this basic recipe yields more sauce than you will need for the amount of potatoes used***
  19. Add the spinach to the skillet and stir into the cheeze sauce until thoroughly mixed.
  20. Place the potato slices into the cheeze sauce and fold the potatoes into the sauce carefully so you don’t break the slices.
  21. Transfer cheezy potatoes to a serving dish and enjoy. Have fun with the toppings! I added jalapeño and a side of ketchup to mine 🙂

Date Posted on Instagram: 5/1/2019

* essential seasoning blend can be found here.

** transfer the excess sauce to an airtight container (preferably glass) and store it in the refrigerator; it will keep for several days but I don’t recommend saving it for more than 5 to 6 days. To reheat: place sauce in a skillet on low heat. Once heat start to melt the sauce, add about 1 to 3 tbsp. of plain, unsweetened almond milk (add the milk one tbsp at a time) to the skillet and stir the sauce with a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) continuously and slowly until sauce becomes “saucy” again. This should return the sauce to it’s thick consistency, but you can add more milk if you want to thin it out even more.
*** so really, you have 3 options. You can also bake more potato slices using another large potato if you want to use all the cheeze sauce in one sitting.

Super Thick & Cheezy Mac ‘n’ Cheeze

I love mac ‘n’ cheeze. I’ve decided that I would try my hardest in life to avoid any stereotypes about anyone, even the seemingly harmless ones (but, I’m not perfect, so don’t “@” me!). And so, I wasn’t gonna say that I’m pretty much obligated to like this side dish staple because I’m Black– but heck, it’s kinda true. I don’t know a single Black person that doesn’t like mac ‘n’ cheese. But there is one thing that most Black people frown upon in the sacred world of this classic food, and I’ve ventured into that territory with this recipe. Out of a box, stove top mac is a no-no. In fact, it’s almost sacrilege. But, when I can up with this cheeze sauce recipe, I knew I was on to something. Sure, it doesn’t have that baked in the oven taste exactly. And sure, it’s not made with real cheese, or even a vegan cheese substitute. And sure, I threw a bunch of seasonings in the recipe that are not at all reminiscent of traditional African-American mac ‘n’ cheese recipes– okay, I see I’m not really making a strong, positive case for my mac. But regardless, when I tried it, I felt like it tasted like something my family would prefer if they had to have the mac ‘n’ cheese made on the stove in like 15 minutes, instead of baked in the oven. Not only that, I made this with all my fellow humans of all ethnicities and cultures in mind, because who doesn’t love a thick and cheezy sauce? There are a lot of vegan cheeze sauce recipes out there, but mine differs in that the goal is for it to be a thick sauce from the start. It’s best when used right away, in it’s thick form. You’re more than welcome to thin it out by adding more almond milk to the mixture, but that defeats the purpose of this being a “super thick and cheezy” mac ‘n’ cheeze — and I know the point of my recipes is to “make them your own”, but I really like this recipe title, so pretty please keep this sauce thick af.

What You’ll Need:

For the Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (x3) plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)

For the Noods and Mac ‘n’ Cheeze Dish:

  • 4-7 cups cooked small pasta shells*
  • Crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • dried parsley (to taste)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)

What to Do:

  1. Prepare noodles (boil water, add noodles, return to a rolling boil uncovered. Use approximately 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry pasta shells. Drain shells from boiling water and run cold water over pasta shells for approximately 10 seconds. Drain again).
  2. Place noodles in a large mixing bowl and set aside someplace near the stove to keep them warm.
  3. Heat a medium to large sized skillet over low heat.
  4. Add butter and melt over low heat.
  5. Very slowly, begin to add the flour, about 1/3 of the whole 1/4 cup at a time; Use a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) to stir flour into the butter as you add it to the skillet. Stir continuously until all flour has been thoroughly mixed into butter and the entire 1/4 cup has been added.**
  6. Reduce heat to a very low simmer– as low as you can get the flame without turning it off.
  7. Add the first 1/4 of almond milk and stir slowly into the roux until completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  8. Add the second 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step, stirring slowly until the milk is completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  9. Add the third 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step.
  10. The sauce will start to form now and should be nice and thick.
  11. Return the heat to low.
  12. Add the nutritional yeast and salt and stir into the cheeze sauce until fully blended. Continue stirring sauce for approximately 1 minute, then, remove from heat.***
  13. Add sauce to the bowl of noodles and stir until cheeze sauce is well blended into noodles.
  14. Transfer some of the mac ‘n’ cheeze to a serving dish and garnish with seasonings to taste.

Date Posted on Instagram: 4/28/2019

* 4 cups will yield a ridiculously cheezy mac, and 7 cups will still be very cheezy but maybe more manageable. You can also use any pasta shape or type you’d like, but I don’t know if the “cheeziness” ratio will change. Most likely, it won’t, but try it out on any pasta you want and play around with the amount of pasta that works for the sauce based on your preference.

** This flour and butter mixture is known as a roux, and it’s the basis for many sauces — particularly in French cuisine (which has a lot of sauce-based dishes), but nowadays, in any cuisine.

*** If you don’t use all the sauce, transfer the remaining sauce to an airtight container (preferably glass) and store it in the refrigerator; it will keep for several days but I don’t recommend saving it for more than 5 to 6 days. To reheat: place sauce in a skillet on low heat. Once heat start to melt the sauce, add about 1 to 3 tbsp. of plain, unsweetened almond milk (add the milk one tbsp at a time) to the skillet and stir the sauce with a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) continuously and slowly until sauce becomes “saucy” again. This should return the sauce to it’s thick consistency, but you can add more milk if you want to thin it out even more.

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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.