Vida Vegan Con 2015

Two years ago, I wrote about Vida Vegan Con II, the vegan blogger conference I attended in Portland.

This past weekend was VVCIII, the third–and final–conference. Last time I learned so much and met so many great people, and I couldn’t wait to pick up where I left off.

I flew into Austin, Texas on Thursday and met up with friends at Counter Culture, a vegan diner. I loved walking onto a restaurant in a new city and seeing familiar faces. During our meal a few others from the last VVC said hello. The city was buzzing with vegans already!

counter culture meal

A burrito and potato salad to kick off the weekend

Friday, vegans from around the country–and world–convened on the Vegan Bazaar. We nibbled on vegan cheese from Miyoko’s Creamery (and got to meet the wonderful Miyoko herself). We heard Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, speak at a breakout session. And we got to shop!

I finally met Nikki, the owner of CykoChik Custom Handbags (and yes I bought a tote I’d been eyeing for a while).

cykochik

I also met Kat, creator of Kick Butt Boots–custom, handmade vegan cowboy boots. Everyone had their eye on a striking red pair. How cute would they be with jeans or a fun, flowy dress?

kick butt boots

We sampled food (The Vegan Nom and Cool Beans food trucks stole the show), bought clothing, jewelry and beauty products and then headed our separate ways. I ended up having drinks at a T.O.F.U Magazine-hosted album release party and then dancing the night away with friends at a bar playing 80s dance music.

Saturday was the first official day of the conference. We picked up our swag bags and we were all treated to a delicious breakfast buffet and coffee bar with so many creamer options: coconut, almond, hemp, soy–awesome!

I attended sessions on science, feminism, health, entrepreneurship, and activism. Lunch was also fantastic. We filled up on the most delicious foods. The day was so inspiring. I learned so much, met new people, and was motivated to do more with blogging and veganism in general.

That evening, we attended Capital City Bakery’s third-year anniversary. I’ve never seem so many people in line to buy cupcakes, and I’d never seen people so happy to be in a line!

capital city bakeryUpton’s Naturals was also on hand, serving up BBQ jackfruit sandwiches. I’ve never had pulled pork, and you’ll never need to, with this cruelty-free version.

Upton's BBQ Jackfruit sandwich

After eating sweet and savory goodness, a few of us bar-hopped until, one by one, we faded. Our crew got smaller as the night got later and eventually I also retreated to my apartment.

Sunday was another packed day of conference sessions, buffets, and socializing. The conference ended in an emotional goodbye and heartfelt thanks to the three founders who turned a dream into a reality and changed the lives of so many others. It was bittersweet to say the least. I’m sad to see VVC come to an end, but I’m excited for what’s next. There’s a new vegan economy springing up and I can sense a change for how people eat, how people think about animals, and the types of businesses that will grown out of this conference.

I loved seeing how bloggers had evolved and progressed. Several attendees had written cookbooks or started vegan businesses since I’d seen them last. VVC played a big part in that, I’m sure. It helped so many of us grow.

After a teary farewell, we ended on a high note. Burgers at Arlo’s! Austin, with its warm nights, knows how to do patios. Days were indoors at the conference but nights were for being out. Sunday evening was no different. We socialized, drank margaritas, and ate burgers and ice cream (from Sweet Ritual) on the patio of Cheer Up Charlie’s.

kale margarita

Monday, I squeezed in one last breakfast with a group from the conference and then hopped over (see what I did there?) to Rabbit Food Grocery to check out the vegan nibbles and wares (rumor has it I bought another bag, but you’ll have to check my fashion blog to see if that’s true).

vvc goodbye breakfast

The weekend was as fun as this post is long. But unlike a too-long post, I didn’t want the weekend to end. It might seem like us bloggers were food obsessed. Perhaps. But it’s because we are enjoying and promoting a world that could be. A world without animal exploitation. It’s a marvelous goal and it makes us passionate and keeps us motivated.

Special thanks to Janessa, Jess and Michelle, without whom none of this would be possible.

Wool-free carpets

When extending veganism beyond your diet, you might think about alternatives to leather shoes and bags. An often overlooked home décor product is carpeting.

Rugs are often made of wool (here’s why wool isn’t an ethical product). Sometimes, you’ll even see leather or leather-trimmed rugs. And sheepskin and cowhide rugs are not byproducts! Fortunately, it’s easy to find alternatives. Let’s look at some options for area rugs and broadloom:

Wall-to-wall

Wall-to-wall wool carpet is more cost-prohibitive that synthetic broadloom so isn’t as common. When shopping for carpet rolls, you’ll notice that most carpeting is synthetic.

Looking for natural alternatives? Wall-to-wall sisal is available at places like sisalcarpet.com, Sustainable Lifestyles, and Fibreworks. It’s available is a range of prices, but seems to be more expensive than synthetic wall-to-wall.

Area rugs

Wool is a common ingredient in area rugs. A simple swap would be to buy a synthetic version. If you see ingredients like nylon, latex, polyester and polypropylene, you’ll know the rug is synthetic.

If petrochemicals are a concern, there’s a host of animal-free natural fibers to choose from too. Cotton, hemp, jute, seagrass, sisal, bamboo, and linen rugs are great options. Some will look more rustic and, well, natural, but you can find a style and color to suit your décor.

Flor carpets

I’m a fan of Flor, a system of carpet squares that you can use to create rugs in any size or shape you’d like. Most are nylon (some are wool, so check the specs). They’re made with recycled backing and meet or exceed VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions standards. If pets, kids, or sloppy guests make a mess, you can replace a tile, not the entire rug. They come in a myriad of styles and colors—from solid, to stripes, and even animal prints. If you crave sophistication, their Better than Wool collection will impress.

Overstock.com has a huge selection of area rugs that you can sort by size, color and material (including synthetic versions of Persian/Oriental styles). Home Decorators has sections for natural and synthetic rugs too. You can even check out Target and Ikea’s sites for ideas.

Wall-to-wall

Wall-to-wall wool is more cost-prohibitive, and isn’t as common, but it’s considered the gold standard. Most wall-to-wall carpeting is synthetic.

Looking for natural alternatives? Wall-to-wall sisal is available at places like sisalcarpet.com, Sustainable Lifestyles, and Fibreworks. It’s available is a range of prices, but seems to be more expensive than synthetic wall-to-wall.

Vegan profile #7: Jennifer Hillman

Name: Jennifer Hillman
Age: 51
Occupation: Director of Strategic Advocacy and Campaigns, The Humane Society of the United States

How long have you been vegan? 20 years this year!

Jennifer and friend

Jennifer and Little Lord Fauntleroy in his cat enclosure

Why did you choose to be vegan? It was purely out of a love for animals. Once I learned about the horrors of factory farming and put two and two together about the animals we love and the animals we eat, I just couldn’t do it anymore. There was no question about it.

Biggest challenge: When I first went vegan, literally within the first few months, the biggest challenge was remembering to read ingredients! Once I started doing that, it was really remarkably easy. Even twenty years ago before the plethora of alternative meats, cheeses, ice creams, etc, it was still such a decision from the heart, that I really didn’t find it that challenging at all. I literally had those animals and their gentle souls in my mind every time I bought food. Plant-based foods are amazing and creative and delicious and they always have been. The nutrition aspect was not challenging at all either. I immediately lost weight and gained energy especially as soon as I gave up dairy products. After that, I felt healthier than I’d ever been. As a vegan, I’ve run four marathons and have never once felt at a lack for animal products as being an “essential” part of my diet.

Best reward: Eating an amazing diet that goes directly, every day, every bite, toward saving animals from suffering, protecting our precious environment and sustaining a healthy life for myself.

Are you involved in AR, vegan outreach, etc.? I work for an animal welfare organization so I feel lucky that I get to advocate for animals for a living, but I do my own type of outreach on my own as well. I enjoy cooking vegan meals for family and friends. I feel like I’ve matured as an activist over the years. I really do enjoy conversations that I have with people who aren’t vegan – and my favorite question is “what do you eat?” I love telling them that I eat a lot of the same foods that they eat and that it is easier than ever to make our eating habits help reduce animal suffering.

Advice for new vegans: Don’t think about what you can’t eat, think about what you CAN eat – the possibilities for delicious, nutritious and compassionate food choices is endless!

Parting words: Becoming vegan and advocating for a vegan diet is one of the things that I’m most proud of.

~

Congrats on twenty cruelty-free years, Jennifer!

To contribute to this feature, check out the profile intro page and drop me a line.

Vegan profile #6: Heather Bolint

Name: Heather Bolint
Age: 28
Occupation: Seattle Director for The Humane League

How long have you been vegan? About 2 years

Heather and friend

Why did you choose to be vegan?
I became vegetarian overnight when I was ten years old because I had pet chickens that I loved and were my best friends. We never ate them, and it occurred to me one day that I didn’t want to eat any animal because I realized that my chickens were no different than my cats and dog, and that if I had a pet cow or pig, I wouldn’t want to eat their relatives either. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I attended Farm Sanctuary’s National Conference to End Factory Farming in 2011, that I learned how the dairy and egg industries are still just as bad and contribute to horrific animal suffering. It was a slower process for me to become vegan, but I finally went 100% vegan when I became an intern at Farm Sanctuary two summers ago, and I haven’t looked back since!

Biggest challenge:
How to effectively discuss my reason for being vegan with family and close friends. It can be especially hard around the holidays, and it’s still a challenge to not get too emotional when others still don’t respect my decision.

Best reward:
Being surrounded by a huge network of supportive vegans and animal rights activists who all share the same passion. It’s amazing the amount of love and understanding that this community of people share with each other all across the country and across the world!

Are you involved in AR, vegan outreach, etc.?
Yes, it’s my job! The Humane League is a nationwide farm animal protection organization that focuses on public outreach and education. So much of my work includes distributing literature, tabling at events, giving classroom presentations about factory farming, and organizing people to become effective activists. I feel very fortunate each day to do what I love for work, and it’s rewarding to see others excited about getting involved as well.

Advice for new vegans:
Attend as many vegan/animal activist conferences, workshops and Meetups as possible to gain a stronger network of support. It’s easy to feel isolated and alone after making the decision to be vegan, so it’s very important to surround yourself with others who share your passion and are eager to make a difference. And for students who want to get involved in the movement, networking with people at these events is a great way to find internships and potential jobs – that’s what I did!

Parting words:
It sounds cliche, but it’s true: Be the change you wish to see in the world. When I was ten years old and made the decision to become vegetarian, I vowed that I would someday work to free all the chickens and give them good lives. And now, 18 years later, it’s incredible to find myself in a job that aims to do just that. Follow your passion!

~

Find out more about the work Heather and others are doing at:

The Humane League
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

To contribute to this feature, check out the profile intro page and drop me a line.

Visiting the Cherokee Rose Inn

It’s no secret that Portland is a very vegan friendly city. But not everyone knows about a true gem, the all-vegan Cherokee Rose Inn, tucked away in Southeast Portland.

cherokee rose inn

photo c/o Cherokee Rose Inn

I usually stay in a hotel downtown when I visit Portland. To mix things up, on my latest trip to Rose City, hubby and I visited this lovely B&B.

Staying in a big house in a real neighborhood made us feel like locals. The inn is a true bed and breakfast, and is walking distance to Belmont Street, where you can eat and drink your fill of vegan food and libations at the Sweet Hereafter, and also not far to Stark Street, home of the world’s first vegan mini-mall: Sweet Pea Baking CompanyHerbivore Clothing, Food Fight Grocery, and Scapegoat Tattoo.

Proprietor sandy Miller is a welcoming host and strikes the perfect balance. She’s hospitable, but respected our privacy. A long-time vegan, she’s done a wonderful job decorating her beautiful home and providing creature comforts in the two upstairs guest rooms, sitting room, and bathroom. We stayed in the Eagle room, a spacious room with queen-sized bed, walk-in closet, and extra trundle bed.

We had already planned to eat our way through Portland’s many vegan restaurants, and were we ever delighted with Sandy’s breakfasts! We had Belgian waffles with coconut whipped cream and homemade sausage patties the first day–and coffee, tea, and freshly squeezed orange juice!

The second morning, we were treated to down-home Southern cooking, vegan style: biscuits and gravy, black-eyed peas, grits patties, greens, fruit–and of course that great OJ!

The Cherokee Rose Inn is a place you’ll be glad you visited. Next time you’re in Portland, stop by and tell Sandy, and her little dog Hamish, I say hi!

at the front door of the Cherokee Rose

Miyoko’s Kitchen: A vegan cheese game-changer

It happened again. I served Miyoko’s Creamery to a vegan friend today and:

“What is this? Where can I get some? Oh wow!”

miyoko's on a cracker

On New Year’s Eve, the same thing happened. I brought a wheel to a party and the omni host declared it the best thing she’s ever eaten. She promptly went in on an order with me.

Let me take a step back. Miyoko Schinner is a gourmet vegan food goddess who literally wrote the book on Vegan Artisan Cheese. People have been making and raving about her delicious vegan cultured nut recipes, but like many good things, they take time to make. Cheese doesn’t age in a day!

Luckily for people like me, who crave instant gratification, Miyoko began selling her creations.

miyoko's creamery

Every time I serve Miyoko’s, people gobble it up. It’s a great way to show non-vegans that vegan food is delectable. The vegans who try it are happy to have a cruelty-free savory cheese in their lives once again. It truly is a game changer.

When I share a wheel of Miyoko’s, I usually pick a spreadable style like Classic Double Cream Chive or Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic. I think these are my favorite. They’re very versatile. In addition to tasting great on a cracker or bagel, they make the best cheesy mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. I used Miyoko’s in the recipe for this dish.

mac n cheese made with miyoko's

Rustic Alpine is a sharp, harder cheese that I ate on crackers and crispy, toasted bread. The Smoked Chive Farmhouse is a smoky hard cheese that, while not bacon-y at all, will get you over any bacon cravings. The satisfaction is in the wood-smoked flavor. French Truffle is a real treat. It’s earth and mushroomy and tasted great spread of a cracker. Or, like I did with half a wheel, make a mushroom stroganoff dish.

pasta with Miyoko's

Those are only five of the flavors you can find on Miyoko’s site. She has others too that I will definitely be trying. Miyoko’s ships throughout the continental US. Orders arrive in two days, icy cold and safe in an insulated box. You can freeze the cheese, which is a great incentive to stock up.

The trouble is, you might eat it all right away!

The vegan bedroom

If your concern for animals extends beyond your plate, you might find yourself looking at clothing labels and household brands to make sure there are no animal ingredients and you’re not supporting animal testing. One place you might overlook is the bedroom.

Pillows and blankets

Some pillows and comforters are stuffed with feathers and blankets can contain wool. Birds and sheep suffer in the production of these products, so steer clear of them. Fortunately, you can find lots of cruelty-free options. Synthetic pillows are hypoallergenic and reasonable. I’ve seen pillows stuffed with buckwheat, and I have one made of shredded natural latex. It all depends on the type of pillow you prefer. Everyone from Ikea to Amazon carries a non-animal version, so try a few out!

Sheets and pillowcases

Silk may sound sensuous, but it’s make of the fibers of silkworms. The cocoons–with worms inside–are dissolved in boiling water so the fibers can be harvested and spun. I’ve found a lot of silky synthetics that are nice, but I still prefer cotton with a little stretch. (Note: Peace silk is made by collecting the cocoons of wild moths after they’ve hatched, so the silkworms aren’t killed–this might be a good option if you insist on silk.)

Sleeping Girl by Nikolay Kuznetsov

Mattresses

Here’s an area where I struggled. I found a futon I liked and discovered, in addition to the main ingredient (cotton), it had a layer of wool (as a fire retardant). In order to get one made without wool, I needed a doctor’s note.

I found several coil mattresses and they were great–except they had silk covers. Ultimately I chose a natural latex mattress, which is made from sustainable natural rubber (tapped from a tree like maple syrup).

PlushBeds is great mattress company that makes all-vegan natural latex mattresses with plant-based fire retardants–no chemicals or wool! You can try out a bed, risk-free. But looking at the photos on their site, I bet you won’t want to give up that comfort!

Natural Bliss

I’m also intrigued with Casper, a latex and memory foam mattress made in America and shipped right to your door (in a surprisingly small box). They are 100% vegan, eco-friendly, and also offer a 100-day free trial period. What have you got to lose? Check out the Casper Mattress Facebook page for more.

casper

Here are some local options if you’re in the Seattle Area:

Bedrooms and More – Really helpful; showed me their silk-free and wool-free options, and educated me about natural latex.

Soaring Heart Natural Bedding – Bring a doctor’s note and they’ll make you a custom futon or tatami without wool.

Seattle Natural Mattress – Chemical-free cotton and natural latex bedding made in Portland, Oregon.

Intimacy

I won’t kiss and tell, but I will say that Trojan condoms and K-Y Jelly aren’t vegan. Trojan is owned by Church & Dwight and K-Y is owned by Johnson & Johnson. Both companies test their product on animals. Instead, check out The Vegan Sex Shop and Vegan Condoms for brands that don’t test on animals (like Glyde and Condomi). As an added bonus, The Vegan Sex Shop has a wide array of toys and whatnot so you can make sure your furry handcuffs are faux and your thigh-high boots are pleather.

These are a few of the things to look out for when creating a vegan bedroom.
And remember: You can still count sheep!

It’s Veganuary!

Go to the gym. Eat healthy. Quit smoking. A new year means a new outlook.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Going vegan is an excellent resolution and January is the perfect time to take the plunge.

Veganuary aims to reduce the suffering of animals by inspiring people to go vegan for the month of January. The folks at Veganuary will help you stick with your goals with vegan products, recipes, and info about eating out. And after a month, you’ll have created a new habit that you likely won’t want to break.

Veganuary is in its third year, and offers info on health and nutrition, the environmental impacts of going vegan and of course, the benefit to the animals.

On the website, you’ll also find profiles of vegans, including yours truly.

Sign up and register on the website today–it’s never too late to be vegan!

veganuary

Driftwood Magazine

Have you heard about Driftwood Magazine? It’s a travel and culture digest for the graduated vegan. Driftwood is filling a niche in the vegan magazine market. Many magazines already exist to help new vegans, but there aren’t a lot of publications for people who want more than the basics.

Driftwood is online already and a quarterly print publication will start up this summer. I like that the print edition will be on high-quality paper so it’s a collector’s piece, not another throwaway item.

I recently had the opportunity to be profiled on Driftwood’s Vegan Faces page:

my vegan face profile

Photo by Holly Feral, Driftwood Magazine

Have a look at all the other fantastic vegans on the Vegan Faces page, all with their own unique and inspiring stories.

If you’re vegan, you can submit your photo and info for consideration. Check out the Vegan Faces section of the Contribute page. As if you needed more reasons to participate, each week, Driftwood Magazine is giving away rewards from vegan businesses to one photographer who submits to vegan faces.

What are you waiting for?

Update: Driftwood just launched a Kickstarter. Check it out and help get the magazine off the ground!

Vegan mac and cheese

I’ve been to a few potlucks recently and I was running out of ideas for simple, delicious dishes to bring. So I thought about veganizing a traditional baked mac ‘n’ cheese casserole. I started off following the directions on the package of pasta and strayed wildly–with great success!

Ingredients:

16 oz elbow pasta
2 cups vegan cheese*
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 slice of bread
2 tbsp. margarine
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
salt to taste

Directions:

First, I brought a large pot of water to a boil (4-6 quarts). Then I added an entire box of elbow noodles and cooked them to al dente (firm).

While the pasta was cooking, I turned half a slice of bread (I used Dave’s Killer Bread) into bread crumbs in my food processor and set it aside for the topping. Then I crumbled 2 cups of vegan cheeses in the food processor and set it aside too.

food processor

* I combined five types of cheese to create the two cups needed for this recipe: Field Roast Chao Cheese Slices in Coconut Herb; Field Roast Chao Cheese Slices in Tomato Cayenne; Daiya Jalapeno Havarti; Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds; and Sundried Tomato from Miyoko’s Kitchen. Use whatever brands and flavors of vegan cheese you prefer.

In a small pot, I melted 2 tbsp. of Earth Balance margarine and added 2 tbsp. of flour and 2 cups of vegetable broth (I used a bouillon cube to create the broth). I added chili powder, turmeric, and black pepper, set the element to low, and whisked the mixture until it thickened.

The blend of spices and spicy cheeses gave this dish a nice kick. If you don’t like a lot of spice, you can use plain cheeses and less pepper.

broth and spices

When the pasta was ready, I drained it into a colander and poured the broth mixture into the big pot where the pasta was. I added the cheeses and stirred until it was mostly melted. Then I added the pasta back into the post and mixed it up well.

Finally, I scooped the whole thing into a 9′ x 9′ glass casserole dish, sprinkled the bread crumbs over the top, and baked it uncovered on 450 F for 10 minutes.

vegan mac n cheese

I let it cool a bit, covered it up, and took it to Christmas dinner with friends. Everyone loved it–even the non-vegans. One omni even said she would have been fooled if I hadn’t told her it was vegan. A compliment for sure!