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Vassar Quarterly Spring/Summer issue Volume 110 on Queer Vegan Food

The spring/summer issue of The Vassar Quarterly features vegetarian perspectives.

Last summer, I wrote a long post about my alma mater’s disappointing “Eat” issue of the alumni/ae quarterly. I was pretty sad to see that my college’s long feature on how we eat featured none of the amazing work current students, staff, professors and alums do in the world of ethical, compassionate eating.

After the post ran, I could not have imagined a better response: other Vassar students, faculty, and alums felt similarly disappointed, and the editor of the magazine wrote to me saying that she would be very interested in remedying the omission of vegan/vegetarian perspectives from representatives of the college. From there, the brilliant students of VARC and other on-campus groups worked with the editor to create a beautiful feature for the current issue (spring/summer, vol. 110) that highlights some of the amazing work being done by Vassarians in the field of animal activism! You can read it online in full here.

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The issue features alumni/ae Pulin ModiSusan Prolman, yours truly, Nicky Quinn and student activists Allen Darer, Alessandra Seiter, Kaden Maguire, and Rocky Schwartz.

Wonderful activist Rocky Schwartz at Animal Place in Vassar's feature on vegetarianism at Vassar and beyond.

Wonderful activist Rocky Schwartz at Animal Place in a feature on vegetarianism at Vassar and beyond.

The piece features some great quotations about vegetarianism, reported by writer Sara Sezun:

On the scale of factory farming:

“According to the Humane Society, of the approximately 11 billion livestock animals killed annually in the United States, 86 percent are chickens and turkeys raised on factory farms.” (p. 20)

On meat eating’s impact on the environment:

“Animal agriculture produces 18 to 50 percent of greenhouse gases.” – James McWilliams. (p. 20).

On the “humane meat” myth:

“Free-range animals face similar fates (as those raised on factory farms). Farmers who raise them cannot allow their herds to become too large, because overgrazing would ruin their pastures. Therefore, “excess” calves, for example, may be sold to feedlots to be raised under conventional circumstances.” (p. 20)

Alan Darer, a current Vassar student whose work inspires me constantly, eloquently posted on his Facebook page about the Quarterly issue and his and other students’ activism around it:

“Alessandra and I were on the phone with (editor) Liz to see how we could move forward. She was very kind, receptive, admitted that they had made a mistake by omitting a vegetarian/vegan perspective and was eager to correct this. She suggested that they publish two letters to the editor critiquing this omission in the Fall Issue and then publish a full feature article on VARC in the Winter Issue.

What’s my takeaway? As animal advocates, our number one job is to be a voice for animals as best as we can and create opportunities to help share their stories. By staying solutions-oriented, we were able to work with Liz to share the plight of farmed animals and VARC’s amazing work with the alumni of Vassar College.” – Alan Darer

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After this issue went live, I heard from friends and family who were inspired by the info and statistics included, all of which help bring awareness to the growing movement of veganism and compassionate eating into the mainstream. I’m also delighted that some of my recipes are featured on the college’s website!

I have never been prouder to be a Vassar alum, and am so grateful for the network of animal activism on campus and beyond! Congrats to all involved in making this issue happen, and to the animals whose lives will be saved thanks to the efforts of those featured.

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Esther The Wonder Pig's Dads

I recently interviewed the beautiful gay dads of Esther the Wonder Pig on Vegansaurus! Pretty fun!

Thanks to her dads Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, tens of thousands of fans get to peek into the surprising and always adorable daily doings of Esther The Wonder Pig, the clever, undeniably photogenic 400-pound pig! It’s truly a delight each day to browse Steve and Derek’s witty status updates and glamorous pics of Esther living her genius, safe, and cozy life in Toronto with her loving dads and dog siblings!

I interviewed Esther’s loving dads about life with Esther, how she came into their lives, and their future plans to continue spreading awareness about pigs as pets, not food.

Click here to read my interview with Esther The Wonder Pig’s Dads on Vegansaurus!

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I recently had the pleasure of visiting Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary in Deer Trail, CO with my love Courtney. Approximately 1.5 hours drive from Boulder, Peaceful Prairie provides a safe, loving home to rescued farm animals. Having hit upon hard times–their main well and cisterns froze and broke in the recent cold spell–Peaceful Prairie is currently doing a fundraising campaign to get back on their feet. During the tour, we learned that they’re slowly recovering (though they definitely still need help!) and it was an honor and a privilege to get to meet some of the human volunteers who run the sanctuary, as well as some of the gorgeous non-human animals who make the sanctuary their home.

Here are some pictures of the non-human friends we had the pleasure of meeting at Peaceful Prairie:

Beautiful cows at Peaceful Prairie in Deer Trail, CO.

Beautiful cows at Peaceful Prairie in Deer Trail, CO

Courtney cuddling a cow.

Courtney cuddling a cow.

A beautiful pig. Photo by Josh Valentine.

A beautiful pig

Lovely fowl at Peaceful Prairie. Photo by Josh Valentine.

Lovely fowl at Peaceful Prairie

A banana-loving pig at Peaceful Prairie.

A banana-loving pig at Peaceful Prairie.

Justice the cow stole my heart! What a sweetie.

Justice the cow stole my heart! What a sweetie.

There I am, explaining to a goat that I am a vegan.

There I am, explaining to a goat that I am a vegan.

With Courtney at Peaceful Prairie sanctuary.

With Courtney at Peaceful Prairie sanctuary.

A lovely bovine friend at Peaceful Prairie. Photo by Josh Valentine.

A lovely bovine friend at Peaceful Prairie.

Whole Foods donates expired produce to Peaceful Prairie. The animals love it!

Whole Foods donates expired produce to Peaceful Prairie. The animals love it!

Lots of great goats at Peaceful Prairie.

Lots of great goats at Peaceful Prairie.

A goat friend at Peaceful Prairie.

A goat friend at Peaceful Prairie.

The crew at Peaceful Prairie.

Some of the crew at Peaceful Prairie.

Courtney and a new friend at Peaceful Prairie.

Courtney and a new friend at Peaceful Prairie.

During the tour, I heard the story of a lovely goat who was rescued a few weeks ago by the sanctuary. Originally “owned” by an organic, “feel-good” goat dairy farm, this goat was only a few years old but had already had 6 kids (all of whom were stolen from her) and was “spent”–meaning she could no longer produce milk that could be commodified by humans.

At the time of rescue, she had a severe eye infection and parasites that were left untreated because–now here’s what’s so important to convey–organic farms aren’t allowed to use antibiotics to treat their animals.

This is a horrible reality that must be shared with vegetarians and omnivores who purchase and consume cow or goat dairy from these so-called “feel-good” organic farms as an alternative to animal products from factory farms. There’s nothing “feel-good” about them for the animals who suffer. I am grateful this goat was rescued and to be able to pass on this crucial info.

Sanctuaries like Peaceful Prairie are a fantastic and important reminder to me of why I am vegan–seeing rescued animals always motivates to try harder and do more for the animals. Eating a vegan diet and telling others about being vegan are important steps, but there’s always so much more we can do. Interacting with the non-human animals for whom I choose this delicious, easy, and extremely rewarding lifestyle known as veganism is such a pleasure.

I look forward to returning to the sanctuary at some point in the not-too-distant future and wish Peaceful Prairie continued success with their fundraiser. You can learn more about Peaceful Prairie and donate to their fundraiser here.

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Bleating Hearts by Mark Hawthorne

If you’re thinking of reading an animal welfare-themed book this year, make it Mark Hawthorne’s breathtakingly well-researched and expertly written new book, Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering. Following his activism-focused first book Striking At The Roots, Hawthorne examines the many unseen sources of animal abuse, mistreatment, murder, and exploitation rampant in our world.

Bleating Hearts features lesser-discussed stories in animal welfare that are incredibly relevant in our modern times. As a vegan who considers herself to be relatively well-informed, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know about many of the specific animal abuses mentioned in Hawthorne’s book. There’s literally so much shit that people do to abuse animals that Hawthorne has painstakingly uncovered, it’s almost unreal. Hawthorne isn’t out to shock—he’s out to inform, providing generous research and sources to show the reader her blind spots and shines light on societal blights many of us have no idea about.

Vegansaurus! Review of Bleating Hearts

Continue reading my review of Bleating Hearts on Vegansaurus!

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Yesterday, I accidentally ate non-vegan hummus.

Yesterday, I accidentally ate non-vegan hummus.

Yesterday, I accidentally ingested dairy in the form of milk hidden in the ingredient list in organic “classic” -flavored hummus sent to me by Eat Well Enjoy Life, a company that wanted me to review various flavors from their line of hummus.

I specifically asked Eat Well Enjoy Life to send only vegan flavors, and so I didn’t even think to check the ingredients of what they sent me. It turns out, they make a lot of vegan flavors, and only a few are made with dairy. I was randomly scanning the ingredients this morning when I saw “contains milk” and my heart sunk. It turns out that in addition to all-vegan hummuses (which are amazing, and are made with really unique vegan ingredients like lentils, white beans, and black beans!), they also sell Greek-yogurt infused hummus. Bummer to the max.

The vegan flavors from Eat Well Enjoy Life

The actually vegan flavors from Eat Well Enjoy Life. They are great.

The non-vegan flavors from Eat Well Enjoy Life. They are made with Greek Yogurt, which wasn't so obvious from the packaging.

The non-vegan flavors from Eat Well Enjoy Life. They are made with Greek Yogurt, which wasn’t so obvious from the packaging.

I haven’t accidentally eaten animal products (that I know of) in a long time, and each time it happens (it’s been only a few times during the 8+ years I’ve been vegan) it’s challenging for me on many levels. I figured I can’t be the only one who has gone through this, so I decided to share what I’ve learned from my recent experience.

Here are the 5 Things I learned From Accidentally Eating Animal Products:

1) Our world is not as vegan as I sometimes wish it were. Weird uses of dairy/eggs/etc. still exist in things one would suspect would be vegan, but you can’t be too careful and it’s always a good idea to double check when trying new products.

2) Companies may claim to understand what veganism is and seem enthusiastic about veganism, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. I’ve even seen things labeled vegan that list whey, honey, dairy, and eggs in products’ ingredients. It’s always a good idea to check, educate, and have conversations to really ensure products being received or reviewed are vegan, especially as a food blogger who gets to interact with sales and marketing people on the reg. I think in this case, there was just a miscommunication between the person with whom I interacted and whomever sent out the samples for review. Eat Well Enjoy Life’s vegan hummus flavors are indeed delicious–creamy, spicy, white bean hummus and edamame hummus, and other bean formulations are indeed worthy of telling vegan bloggers about–it’s just a shame they accidentally sent non-vegan samples that I didn’t think to check as well.

3) It’s best to make your own hummus. No matter how great a store-bought hummus, nothing compares to homemade versions. Homemade hummus tastes way fresher and better, I’ve learned. I highly recommend any of the hummus recipes on Choosing Raw.

4) I am human, and sometimes humans forget to check product labels even when they know better. We live in a non-vegan world and this is just another reminder that we all need to do our best to keep educating and helping people understand why we choose to abstain from consuming animal products.

5) Good can come from bad. Today, in honor of my unfortunate accidental ingestion of dairy, I’m going to make a donation to an animal welfare-related cause. I’ve decided to give to Veganism is the Next Evolution (VINE). VINE is a wonderful sanctuary and I highly recommend checking them out. I realize it is a privilege to be able to donate, and my accidental ingestion of animal products is a great excuse for me to put extra attention into doing what I can. (Not that one needs to wait until they accidentally eat animal products to promote animal welfare causes!)

Thanks for reading! xo

I’d love to hear about others’ experiences dealing with this, if anyone has a story related or wants to share?

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Never Read The Comments On Queer Vegan Food

The infamous “Never Read The Comments” tote bag guest poster Jamie J. Hagen spotted after Vida Vegan Con this year.

Today, Queer Vegan Food readers are in for a major treat: a really amazing guest post by writer/activist and scholar Jamie J. Hagen. I’ve long been a fan of Jamie’s writing and strong feminist-vegan social media presence, and am SO excited that she volunteered to share this personal and important post about the feminist implications of comment sections on online articles and blogs.

Jamie’s discussion is drawn from her experience as an editor of queer lady site  Autostraddle, and other sites. As a speaker at Vida Vegan Con this year, Jamie led a discussion about how to keep comments sections respectful AND maintain healthy discourse. It’s got my wheels spinning; How do online communities enforce respectful commenting while simultaneously encouraging healthy debate?

I’d love to hear what others think about the comments sections in blogs and whether you think Jamie is right that feminist spaces can benefit from a well-enforced comments policy. Her great questions allow us to consider our own experiences with comments sections, and I’d encourage anyone who feels moved to share to do so.

And now, the post you’ve been waiting for… ~ Sarah

Why I Read The Comments: A Feminist Argument For The Value Of An Engaged Comment Community

By: Jamie J. Hagen

As a freelance writer I’ve received incredibly adamant advice to read the comments. I’ve also received incredibly adamant advice not to read the comments. The worth in responding to comments is a somewhat contentious and confused topic, often overshadowing the potential value of an engaged comment community.

During my time as a Contributing Editor to the girl-on-girl culture website Autostraddle I became a big fan of the potential for conversation and community in the comment space. As a regular writer and reader of the website, I value Autostraddle’s efforts to promote a “safe-space” conversation with a well thought out comment policy.

Their comment policy begins, “We have really funny readers, and we love getting to know you and hearing your opinions. Dialogue with readers is so important to us, in fact, that we are working hard to make sure that Autostraddle remains a safe place for discussion as we get bigger and better.”

Covered in their policy are issues such as bad faith, fat phobia, and trans* inclusion and this has led to many constructive, fun, lively conversations moderated by Autostraddle community moderators. Further vegan, queer food for thought: Some of the members of Autostraddle’s comment community became best friends and even lovers during Autostraddle sponsored events and other offline venues. Some readers aren’t out as queer anywhere but online. Some readers don’t find support for their thoughts and feelings as queers anywhere but on online. Knowing the editors, writers and the comment community are all invested in creating a space to support queer readers who may not find that type of support anywhere else is constantly lauded by many community members.

When writing for other websites I seek to bring this same ethic in responding to the comments. For example, while writing for PolicyMic.com it was made clear that promoting our pieces by engaging with the commenters was encouraged, essentially required, to be a successful writer for the site geared towards a millennial crowd working to create a bi-partisan political dialogue.

From the perspective of someone who has been involved in Autostraddle and other feminist comment spaces I pitched the “Comments Are Your Friend” workshop for the vegan blogging conference Vida Vegan Con II conference in May of this year. As I imagined the workshop, it would offer a space to create a conversation about whether people read the comments, why or why not, and how we can make sure we participate in self-care when writing and commenting about the personal as political. Only after learning I’d be welcomed to host the comment conversation at Vida Vegan Con II did I discover the “Never Read the Comments” tote for sale at Portland‘s vegan grocery story Food Fight – so there‘s that!

At the workshop I opened the conversation for all to share their experiences with comments. Many attendees spoke to the difficulty of discussing vegan politics on personal spaces such as Facebook, but agreed there was a valuable opportunity to educate readers on the web about veganism by simply responding with a non-judgmental factual comment when possible. Attempting to change the minds of those trolling websites to get a rise out of writers certainly seems a fools errand, but a well-articulated comment left in response to a nasty or confrontational comment may reach dozens or even hundreds of readers.

Jamie Hagen and Laura Beck of Vegansaurus and Jezebel At Vida Vegan Con Conference

Jamie Hagen, Laura Beck of Vegansaurus and Jezebel and panel participants at Vida Vegan Con Conference

It’s hard to ignore the impact of gender-based and homophobic attacks endured by female and queer writers online. The recent campaigns by Facebook and Twitter to address violent and repetitive rape threats and the posting of rape videos on their networks speaks to the extent of the problem. Because of this reality, I feel those of us with the ability to build and structure a more feminist space in a blog’s comment community should consider and explore taking the time to do so.

Writing about queer politics, vegan politics or any other ethically charged topic can lead to some difficult and exhausting conversations. Creating a valuable comment space requires work, a well-developed comment policy and the ability to enforce it.  Whether a writer chooses to read or engage with the comment community will vary on context, time commitment to community building and meeting the needs of her own self-care.

Do you have experience engaging with constructive conversation in your comment space? If not, do you think a comment policy and more active engagement from regular readers and writers could shift the tone of a comment space?

Jamie Hagen

Jamie J. Hagen is a writer and doctoral student of Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts, Boston with a focus on gender and feminist security studies. As a freelance writer Hagen has covered queer and vegan politics, news, and culture for publications such as RollingStone.com, One Green Planet and Autostraddle

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The Vassar Eat Issue

As an alum of the college, former assistant staff writer at the publication, and ethical queer vegan, I’ve been pretty heartbroken since I received my copy of the Spring/Summer 2013 Vol. 109 Issue 2 of Vassar, the alumnae/i quarterly of Vassar College. I got chills when I saw the theme of the issue was “Eat.” Before perusing, I sensed that there was a significant chance that this issue theme would be grossly mishandled. I suspected that Vassar would likely glorify eating (and exploiting) non-human animals by highlighting the work of notable non-vegan alums like Anthony Bourdain, and other so-called food celebrity alums.

It turns out I was right about my suspicions: “Eat” issue is one of the most troubling things I’ve ever seen branded with Vassar’s name. There’s too much offensive material in this 91-page volume to cover all of it, but I’ll share some highlights:

On page seven, the article “The Gritty Life of a Food Activist” profiles a white male alum with a five-o-clock shadow staring at a dead pig head, ostensibly of one of the “heritage” varieties he purports to care about saving through–you guessed it–raising them to be slaughtered:

“[Heritage Foods]‘ mission is to preserve rare breeds of turkeys, pigs, cows, lambs, bison, tuna, salmon, chicken, ducks, geese, and goats by creating a market for them…Martins believes that eating heritage breeds is the only way to save them.” (p. 7, Vassar,  “Eat” Issue).

Anyone who has read Carol J. Adams’ work The Sexual Politics of Meat can understand the unique sexual politics related to a (white) man presiding over a dead pig’s head, ostensibly one he’s helped kill in order to “save” it. Hmm.

Page 16 features a recipe for Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) complete with shrimp pictures, courtesy of Vassar alum/cookbook author Penelope Casas. Yikes. No vegan option in sight, no explanation, just meat-eating continuing to be perpetuated as the norm and something to be celebrated.

Next, on page 17, there’s an article called “Conscience in the Kitchen” discussing how chef Seth Caswell cooks “fresh oysters right from the shell.” I couldn’t believe the article title. Where, exactly, is the conscience in Caswell’s cooking? I can only assume the writer is referring to the fact that Caswell works in a LEED-certified kitchen when he serves “ever-popular chicken Parmesan” The truth is, meat is not conscionable on any level, and certainly not to the chicken who needlessly gave his/her life.

Page 18 features an alum who runs a restaurant called “Fish Fowl Beef Pork”–I’m gagging. Of all the amazing work Vassar alums are doing in the world, they have to feature someone whose work glorifies killing fish, birds, cows, and pigs? There’s even a mention of this guy’s “grilled Sullivan County fois gras” — besides being incredibly cruel, I have to ask: is Fois gras even legal anymore?

Perhaps the worst article in this issue is “Greener Pastures,”on p. 21 featuring Justin Leavenworth ’96, who is characterized as an effeminate “skinny jeans-, hipster glasses-wearing guy” who somehow finds a way to get along with his fellow “macho men” of the meat industry. If this isn’t a classic sexual politics of meat trope, I don’t know what is. The message is, look, even effeminate Vassar men can be “manly” by showing they know what’s what about killing animals. There is so much wrong with this article, I don’t even know where to start. How about this:

“Some ranchers mistrust the grass-fed movement, considering it a way to move the country one step closer to the ‘liberal vegetarian ideal.'” (p. 21). Side note: Vassar editors, who, exactly, do you think your readers are?

Then there’s a fudge recipe with animal products making up about 50% of the ingredients hailed as “Vassar tradition,” no vegan option included. One could easily substitute coconut milk for the butter and cream and it’d be amazing. Why wasn’t a vegan option even considered? There’s way more offensive material in this issue, but I’m exhausted already. And yes: Anthony Bourdain gets his obligatory profile as well.

Based on my experience working for the Quarterly during my Senior year of college, I recognize that the primary function of the publication is to inspire alums to donate to Vassar through emotional stories relating to the school and its notable attendees, faculty, staff, and community members. What better topic to relate to our emotions than our food, our sustenance, our culturally-linked second heart? I get why the editors of this magazine chose this theme. But writing about food in a way that completely ignores vegan perspectives is really limited, and ignores the great work Vassarians do in this arena.

Couldn’t Vassar editors have chosen to profile even one vegan perspective? We have many notable vegan alums, including but not limited to: Haley Burke, a cancer center doctor living and working in Texas; Pulin Modi, a force for good in this world at Change.Org; activist Lauren O’Laughlin, and on and on.

There are also lots of other incredible current Vassar student vegan activists, like Ali Seiter, Alan Darer, Rocky Schwartz, and more. I met some of these activists at the Marti Kheel Ecofeminist Conference at Wesleyan, and THEY are what makes me  proud to call myself a Vassar alum. Vassar does great work in the field of human- and non-human animal welfare; why not highlight it, or at the very least, refrain from mocking it?

I’m pretty happy to report that there was at least one vegan mention in the publication–my contribution to Defiant Daughters: 21 Women On Art, Activism and The Sexual Politics of Meat gets a nod in the Mixed Media section on p. 40.

Final words: I am really disappointed by this issue of Vassar. It doesn’t include or recognize perspectives that are central to many Vassar community members’ activism. It certainly doesn’t make me feel inspired to pull out my wallet. Despite this, I am going to remain hopeful that the good work Vassar students, faculty, alumnae/i and others continue to do in this world for human- and non-human animals will ring far louder than puff pieces aimed to rake in donations.

I encourage anyone interested to e-mail the Director of Alumnae/i Communications, Editor Elizabeth Randolph and let her know what you think about this issue. She can be reached at elrandolph@vassar.edu.

Thanks.

UPDATE: Lagusta Umami of Lagusta’s Luscious has confirmed Foie gras is currently legal in New York State, but banned in California.

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