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Finding a Niche For All Animals: A Conference honoring the ecofeminist work of Marti Kheel held at Wesleyan University

This weekend, I attended a conference honoring the life and work of late vegan ecofeminist scholar and activist Marti Kheel. The conference took place at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and was organized by Wesleyan professor Lori Gruen and one of my personal heroines, Carol J. Adams.

Marti was the author of the classic ecofeminist book Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective, which, according to Marti, “seeks to heal the divisions between the seemingly disparate movements and philosophies of feminism, animal advocacy, environmental ethics, and holistic health.” What drew me to Kheel’s work as an undergraduate at Vassar is that it outlines an ecofeminist philosophy that acknowledges the crucial roles of empathy in activism. It has always made intuitive sense to me to apply my “feeling” self to my activism.

The late ecofeminist vegan Marti Kheel.

I love how Marti explained that killing animals is wrong on “logical” grounds, but that we can also argue that one’s feelings about animals, compassion for their lives, and empathy for others’ suffering are valid reasons to be in favor of a plant-based diet.

Marti was a fantastic, determined, strong-minded activist, and a cherished friend to many within this movement and beyond. It was inspiring to see the ripples of her influence through the words of many of her friends and colleagues who spoke at the memorial the first evening of the conference. After a documentary shown about her life and work and a wonderful speech by Marti’s friend and colleague, The Sexual Politics of Meat author Carol J. Adams, other folks stood up and spoke about their personal connections to Marti. Many at the conference had worked very closely with her, including those who were active with Feminists For Animal Rights (FAR), a group Marti created based on her vision. Others had volunteered with Marti for animal rights causes or had been influenced by her during their academic and activist careers. While I did not speak at the memorial, I am lucky to say that I did have the privilege of meeting Marti several years ago while I was living in the Bay Area (she was a raw vegan and we met at an Oakland raw foods event organized by a mutual connection) and we kept in touch as I worked at a raw vegan center which she had visited before we’d met.

Just after meeting Marti, she instantly connected me with queer vegan women’s events she organized in the Bay Area, and we corresponded over e-mail about holistic health, and things related to a book project my partner and I were (and still are) working on about the intersections between holistic health, veganism and LGBTQ communities. The last time I heard from Marti was on October 5, 2011 in an e-mail letting me know she was sick with cancer and that she wanted to help more with our book, and that I should e-mail her questions and ideas quickly because time was of the essence. A few weeks later, on November 19, 2011, I got news that Marti had died. While I hadn’t known Marti as well as others in attendance at the conference, and we were only beginning to discuss and collaborate on ideas, I have been so humbled and grateful that even while sick and facing the end of her life, Marti was immensely committed to helping others and advance the vegan movement.

Heartwarming stories were shared at the memorial portion of the conference including a beautiful story Carol J. Adams told about how Marti began her animal activism as a young person refusing to pose in the family photos unless her family’s pet cat could be included. Several members of Marti’s family were in attendance, and shared how her compassionate approach to veganism influenced them and made more inspired to question aspects of their own lives.

Carol J. Adams speaking at the Marti Kheel Conference.

Panels at the conference referenced Marti’s Ecofeminist work and discussed how Marti’s compassionate approach to activism was infused in every aspect of her life.While the conference was primarily academic in nature–terms like “praxis” and “problemetize” were included in many panelists’ talks based on papers they’d written for the conference–there were great inclusions of practical approaches to activism that I found heartening and inspiring. My friend Lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition gave a great talk about how her work with FEP considers food justice as a complex issue that requires looking beyond simply checking to see if ingredients are vegan. We must ensure that they are ethically sourced, as in the case of her nonprofit’s commitment to identifying truly ethical vegan chocolate companies that do not trade in child slave labor. (Note: Please sign the petition asking the makers of Clif Bars to disclose where they get their cocoa beans!) Lauren also discussed the importance of a vegan activist approach that is respectful to the needs of diverse communities.

Absolutely inspiring, witty and brilliant vegan duo Mark Hawthorne and Lauren Ornelas.

Theorist Greta Gaard spoke about ecofeminist theory and practice, and mentioned queer sexuality in the context of animal rights (which I loved).  Other talks I found inspiring included pattrice jones’ discussion of her queer-run animal sanctuary Vine Sanctuary, and about how they have all of their important meetings standing up in the barn while surrounded by animals. patrice said a line which really rang true: “All the stuff we really want is free.” patrice said to share with paleo dieters and purported feminists who eat meat: “Tell them that eating meat is something you do to someone else’s body without their consent.” What a powerful and accurate thing to say!

The first evening of the conference was catered with delicious vegan sushi, appetizers and gluten-free vegan treats from a local Connecticut vegan bakery:

Vegan sushi and chocolates served at the Marti Kheel conference.

Mushroom polenta cakes served after the memorial portion of the conference.

Lunch on Saturday was 100% vegan and delicious.

Ivory of vegan myths debunked fame (who is an all-star, best ever vegan conference buddy, the best a gal could ever hope for!) and I met in NY Penn station (I came from Philly, she from Brooklyn) and traveled to the conference together. We had the amazing good fortune of meeting some really wonderful new friends Andrea and Danielle at the conference who convinced us to stay with them in Branford, CT (near Wesleyan) and have a late-night persimmon and almond milk Greek yogurt party instead of staying at a hotel. It did not take too much arm twisting 😉 We had a wonderful time bonding, chatting about our paths to veganism and how we all love plants (PLANTS!)! It was amazing to find some queer vegan women kinship and make incredible, thought-provoking, hilarious new friends!

Vegan lady friends! L to R: Danielle, Andrea and Ivory!

All-organic, fair-trade coffee was served with some soy mylk on the side.

Ecofeminist Greta Gaard speaking about Marti Kheel.

Wesleyan University’s beautiful campus.

Posing after lunch with my heroine and friend Carol J. Adams.

I got to meet Ali, fellow Vassar woman and author of the fabulous vegan food blog Farmers’ Market Vegan!

Ivory, Andrea and I had a great time at the conference!

One activist spoke about her ethical dilemma in not being able to find a vegan infant formula and needing to procure one immediately for her infant in the ICU. She said the D3 in the product was sourced from lanolin, which is from sheep, and that choosing that product was very difficult for her but ultimately was what was necessary to save her son’s life.

After the panel, I commended the activist for finding compassion for herself in this difficult situation, and I suggested the option of reaching out to infant formula brands that use all-vegan ingredients except for the non-vegan D3 and asking them to use vegan D3 in products now that it is available. This was something the panelist had not considered doing, and I think it’s a good example of where businesses and academics can work together to find solutions to problems.

I currently work for a vegan business and have worked for other vegan businesses in the past. I believe in the importance of academia and the influence of scholarship in shaping ideas that later become practiced throughout activist movements, however I also feel it is crucial that we connect the dots and work with businesses to provide vegan alternatives. I think a more vegan-friendly marketplace is a great goal for academics and non-academics (lay people?) alike, and was grateful for the chance to discuss this with her.

My former professor/friend Jill Schneiderman and others admiring the next generation of vegan activists.

For me, Finding A Niche For All Animals involved honoring Marti Kheel and celebrating her legacy, meeting new friends, seeing old friends, connecting with visionaries and a rare and incredibly sweet private lunch with Carol and Ivory in which we discussed our work and plans for the future. I leave with a renewed inspiration that vegan activism must always come from the love and empathy we have inside us that extends outwards to those around us. Thank you for reading.

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I decided it was finally time to attempt my own gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookies from scratch, cookies that would be really legit so that I could serve it to very important people (my friends). In this recipe, I give the option to substitute coconut palm sugar and xylitol for traditional sweeteners, but feel free to use brown or any other sugar. I used a bit of all-purpose gluten-free flour in addition to almond and oat flour made in the Vitamix.

They were delicious and a really superb texture. Here’s the recipe!

Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Ingredients:

1/4 cup All-purpose gluten-free flour mix

3/4 cup almond flour (I just vitamixed almonds using the dry blade)

1 cup gluten-free oat flour (I just vitamixed oats using the dry blade)

3 Tbs applesauce

1/2 cup coconut palm sugar or xylitol (or a combo of the two, if you’d like)

4-5 drops liquid stevia

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 Tbs coconut oil

1/4 cup water, or more if needed

1 Tbs “flax egg” which is 1 tbs ground flax (again, I vitamixed the seeds using dry blade) + 3 Tbs water

1/2 cup fair-trade vegan chocolate chips

1/4 cup cacao powder (optional if you’d like them to be double chocolate chip cookies)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degree. Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Add together and put on a pre-greased cookie tray/sheet. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or longer if needed.

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I absolutely love eating purple plants! Purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple eggplant, purple peppers–wow, nature is so colorful and delicious! Navitas Naturals recently sent me generous samples of maqui powder and chia seeds. I have always loved chia seeds for their high omega-3 content and long-lasting protein and energy, and Navitas Naturals’ product is definitely extremely high quality. Maqui berries, which Navitas Naturals sells in a conveniently ground powder, offer more antioxidants than any discovered fruit, and are a great source for vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium, according to the company’s website. Super healthful superfoods, but what to put them in?

After a little bit of brainstorming and experimentation, these gorgeous purple muffins were born! They are gluten-free and vegan, packed with protein and antioxidant punches that pair beautifully with a tall frosty glass of almond mylk. They’re dyed purple with a gorgeous, healthful superfood rather than crappy artificial food dyes, which might be my favorite thing about them, besides the fact that they taste delicious–slightly sweet, perfectly hearty and crunchy thanks to the whole chia and poppy seeds. Here’s the recipe!

Navitas Naturals’ Lemon Maqui Chia Muffins (Makes 14-16 small muffins)

Ingredients:

2 tsp Navitas Naturals Maqui Powder

1 Tbs Navitas Naturals Chia Seeds

1 cup almond mylk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup applesauce

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 cups gluten-free flour

1 ripe banana, mashed

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs poppy seeds

5 drops liquid stevia

1/4-1/2 cup coconut sugar or xylitol powder

Instructions:

Grease muffin tins, or use liners. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt coconut oil, and mix it with each of the liquids together. Mix all of the dry ingredients, and then put the wet and dry together. Put in muffin tins, bake for 20-25 minutes, and voila! Purple superfood muffins!

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A recent post in the rad queer ladies’ blog Autostraddle named Queer Vegan Food a top queer food blog. (Hooray!) Since the post went up, I’ve gotten a bunch of new readers, many new blog views and comments on older posts. I mention these things because I’m really grateful that more LGBTQ people are checking out this blog. Not all of the food blogs mentioned in the Autostraddle post were vegan or vegetarian, and while I respect the diversity in our community on all levels, I do feel strongly that a compassionate diet deserves a place at the queer table, so to speak.

I created Queer Vegan Food because I wanted to contribute to broader discussions about the interconnections between oppression against LGBTQ folks and against non-human animals. I believe that people of all sexual orientations can benefit from a compassionate diet, and that there are particular overlaps between the marginalization of queer human animals and our non-human animals companions, and I wanted to use this blog to talk about and help each other understand them.

I’m glad that more queer ladies may find my blog thanks to Autostraddle. I hope that this will continue to be a blog where people of all orientations and genders feel welcome.

Since I created this blog, I’ve heard from numerous people on all ends of the sexuality/gender spectrums who feel similarly passionate about these connections. I’ve read many inspiring pieces online that inspire me to keep learning and sharing about this topic. Check out what some of our queer community bloggers are doing in the realm of vegan food, culture and activism:

  •  Our Hen House has a section called The Gay Animal which addresses queer-vegan interconnections.
  •  Ari Solomon and others participated in a Veg News discussion that is a great primer on many of these issues.
  • My friend and former Vassar classmate Rachel Lee authors the hilarious and amazing blog Vegan Gluten Free Karaoke. Tegan and Sara karaoke and vegan food? Yes please!

I appreciate that this blog can add to these discussions. I thank you for reading, and hope to keep sharing recipes and ideas that broaden the discourse on how we can nourish our communities and ourselves.

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After spending nearly two years working for an all-raw completely gluten-free vegan retreat center in Arizona, I had effectively stopped eating all gluten. After a year or so experimenting with eating some gluten since I left the center, I’ve still had a hard time allowing myself to eat gluten when gluten-free options are available. Many health circles promote a gluten-free lifestyle pretty heavily. It’s become trendy to eat gluten-free, and frankly, that concerns me. I have mostly cut gluten from my diet, but there isn’t really research out there effectively showing it’s not suited for the average person. I’ve been wondering: have I decided to eschew gluten without really questioning whether research shows it’s better to go GF without diagnosis of an allergy or celiac?

In the past few weeks, I have been gently coercing myself to try foods containing gluten. A little wheat-containing fake meat here, a little piece of bread at Vedge there. I’ll admit, even dabbling in gluten territory has been kind of tough for me emotionally. It’s been labeled an “unsafe” food by the medical doctor I worked for at the center, and as someone with a history of disordered eating, I’ve worked hard to move beyond labeling foods as “good” and “bad” (purely from a nutritional standpoint. This doesn’t apply to animal products, because I acknowledge that they’re foremost horrible from a cruelty standpoint).

I spent years studying with a doctor who said gluten would eff you up, and I’ve read enough Kris Carr and Mind Body Green blogs to see why it’s just cooler to avoid gluten. But sometimes I take a look at JL Goes Vegan, or a post on Choosing Raw that includes a gluten option, and I am faced with the question: am I really avoiding gluten because I feel kind of icky physically after eating gluten, or is it emotional, or both? I think these are important questions to ask ourselves, regardless of the food items in question. Our emotions are certainly tied to our guts–scientific studies have shown that the bacteria in our guts can influence our emotions in big ways–but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to suggest that those without intolerance to gluten need to forgo it, and it’s so plentiful in many vegan foods, it seems a shame to tell people to avoid it altogether and push them towards gluten-free products, many of which are not vegan.

I’ve noticed many so-called health-oriented vegans moving away from veganism because while being a gluten-free vegan is certainly doable and even easy once you get the hang of it (If you’re a gluten-free vegan, I highly recommend the Manifest Vegan blog!) it adds yet another set of “must-do’s” and may make veganism feel more restrictive to certain folks. High raw seems like a great option for folks who want to eat raw food but don’t want to be all-raw; gluten-free, as in “you must not eat anything with gluten,” may push would-be-vegans off the path. Nutritoinist Ginny Messina discusses the importance of vegans encouraging diverse food choices in their budding vegan friends and loved ones, and I agree with that.

I’ve got one wacky food allergy that I am already aware of (no testing needed)/ I’m the only person I know who gets Angelina Jolie lips and breaks out in hives when I touch or eat mangoes (it’s a shame, I know–they really are delicious). It’s not inconceivable that I’ve got a gluten intolerance given that eating gluten sometimes makes my tummy feel weird, even in small quantities. But, I’m willing to get tested to find out for sure what’s going on. Even if I do choose to avoid gluten after testing negative, that will at least be a more informed choice. While I believe that we should honor how our bodies feel above test results, I really am curious whether my outsized fear of gluten is just that–a fear–or if it really is rooted in a biological issue.

Have you ever considered cutting any vegan foods out of your diet completely, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance? I would really love to hear from you in the comments.

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for the results of my gluten tests. xo

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This is a large sea veggie salad rich with wakame, spirulina, kelp, sesame seeds, sesame oil and locally grown greens, made into a sandwich by harnessing the power of large cabbage leaves (substituted for bread). Queer Vegan Food is all about crossing boundaries, transgressing social culinary norms and straddling multiple identity categories. With that in mind, I ask you to accept that this is not a salad, but rather a sandwich. Or call it whatever you will–make it, and I bet you’ll agree with me that it’s absolutely healthfully delicious!

Raw Vegan Cabbage-Sea Veggie Sandwich

Close-up of the filling: spirulina-coated sea veggies, greens, almonds and more!

Ingredients:

Sandwich filling:

3 cups chopped greens (I used kale and romaine)

1/2 cup chopped cabbage

1/2 cup pre-soaked wakame

1/4 cup nori strips (optional)

handful raw almonds (optional)

1/4 cup chopped plain tofu (optional)

2 tsp sesame seeds (optional)

Spirulina dressing:

1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

1 Tbs spirulina

1-2 tsp olive oil or sesame oil

dash high-quality salt

dash kelp flakes

Cabbage “bread”:

4-6 large/medium outer cabbage leaves

Instructions:

Toss all salad ingredients and mix in spirulina dressing in a large salad bowl. Use large cabbage leaves to make sandwiches out of the salad filling. Enjoy!

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I thought I’d do a little round-up of my favorite vegan dishes in Philly! As you can see, some of them are raw, some aren’t, but they’re all vegan, mostly gluten-free (I think!) and are completely delicious. They are in no particular order.

10. “Clean” Green Juice

Where to get it: Jar Bar in Center City

My favorite juice in the city, hands down. “Clean” contains: cucumber, celery, romaine, spinach, kale. $5.50 for 16oz is very fair and makes this my go-to juice when on the go in Philly.

9. Chickpea Salad with Falafel

Where to get it: SweetGreen in University City.

This salad is delicious. SweetGreen is amazing, and so close to where I live it’s almost criminal. (Image.)

8. Banana Whip, aka “Frobana”

Where to get it: HipCityVeg in Rittenhouse Square

A long time ago, Gena Hamshaw figured out how to make frozen bananas into truly magical soft-serve ice cream using only a food processor or green star juicer, empowering legions of vegans to make the treat for themselves. HipCityVeg, which opened a little while ago, serves this healthful vegan twist on soft serve from 10a-10p each day of the week! I love that I can get this whenever I’m remotely near Rittenhouse Square. Everything is remotely near Rittenhouse Square, and for that I am very, very grateful. (Image)

7. Brussels Sprouts shaved and grilled with smoked mustard

Where to get it: Vedge Restaurant, when it’s featured on the “Dirt List”

This dish is unreal. Shaved, grilled and smoked, these Brussels Sprouts are unlike any I have ever tried before. Crisp, savory, and slightly crunchy bits grace each sauce-coated shaved Brussels sprouts mound. I ordered this dish both times I have had the privilege of dining at Vedge and was consistently thrilled. Pure vegetable bliss. (Image)

6. Brown Rice Inari

Where To Get it: Mizu (in various locations throughout the city)

Inari is so amazing. It’s traditionally made with sushi rice wrapped in fried bean curd, but Mizu makes a version with brown rice that’s a tad more healthful and really delicious. You have to specially request it with brown rice but it’s totally worth it! (Image.)

5. Sea Vegetable Salad

Where to get it: Vegan Tree on South St.

Generous chunks of wakame, fresh greens and other veggies, plus sesame seeds and well-prepared tofu. A truly delicious option for pre-made seaweed salad–the best I’ve found in Philly so far. (Image)

4. Vegan Bubble Tea

Where to get it: Vegan Tree on South St.

While some controversy abounds as to whether bubble tea is safe, for now I’m a huge fan of the bubble tea options at Vegan Tree. Completely vegan bubble tea is semi hard to come by in Philly, so these are a real find. I love the green tea, coconut, and Jasmine green tea flavors best, but have a (tapioca) ball and enjoy what you will! (Image)

3. Chocolate Coconut-Based Vegan Soft-Serve

Where To Get it: Pure Fare, Center City

This soft serve is out of this world good. Coconut-based soft serve has arrived to Philly and it’s unbelievable. (Image.)

2. Gluten-Free Vegan Cake Balls

Where to get it: Sweet Freedom on South St.

Sweetened with low glycemic coconut sugar, these gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free confections from Sweet Freedom are made with high-quality ingredients and taste like a chocolate Universe just collided in on itself to form black (brown?) holes of deliciousness. These are gone in just a few bites. Perfect. Image.

1. “Green Delight (w/ Spirulina)” Popcorn

Where to get it: Atiya Ola’s Spirit First Foods in West Philly.

This spirulina-coated popcorn is like crack for those of us who love algae snacks. And who doesn’t love algae snacks?

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear in the comments which dishes you love to enjoy in Philly that I haven’t listed here 😉

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Green juice and locally-grown flowers in my kitchen.

While I’ve been known to down glasses of liquified mustard greens, radish, beet greens, arugula and other “strong” plant ingredients, I’m a huge fan of mild green juice now and then. Appease your palate while boosting your veggie intake with this cool twist on a classic:

Delightful Mild Mint Green Juice

Serves 1-2

Ingredients:

1 medium or 3/4 large cucumber

1/2 head romaine lettuce

5 stalks celery

1/2 green apple (optional)

4 peppermint or other mint leaves

Instructions:

Juice, drink deeply and enjoy!

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Green beans are an ideal vegetable snack. Great fresh or chopped into raw salads, they’re a versatile summer favorite. They are also wonderful when made into raw dehydrated crisps. Shoestring shaped, this easy-to-make healthful treat pairs well with hummus, bean or salsa dips, guacamole. Also great when enjoyed by itself as an energizing snack. Requires only a few hours to dehydrate, and takes very little prep time. Enjoy:

Dehydrated Green Bean Crisps

Ingredients:

Green beans

Coconut oil

Salt

Garlic powder

Herbs and spices (optional)

Instructions:

Lightly coat green beans with coconut oil, salt, garlic and other herbs and spices if you wish. Dehydrate for 3-5 hours, depending on desired texture. Enjoy!

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This recipe contains several different kinds of dense vegan protein mixed with spices and a colorful cornucopia of lightly steamed veggies. This energy-dense meal can satisfy any appetite, and is great dish to serve vegan naysayers who ask the hackneyed question “where do you get your protein?” Cooks in under 35 minutes, more or less including veggie prep time.

Rainbow Protein Vegan Stew (serves 4-6)

1 cup quinoa

1 cup red lentils

 1 Tbs coconut oil

1/2 cup tempeh

1/4 cup chopped golden or regular beets

2 cups swiss chard

1/4 cup hemp seeds

2 Tbs nutritional yeast

1/2 cup stewed or fresh tomatoes

1 tsp Berbere (a mix of spices–you can substitute curry, turmeric, garlic, onoin and/or cayenne if you’d like)

Recipe:

Chop and peel veggies. Cook quinoa and lentils, and steam everything else. Add in spices, and mix with cooked lentils and quinoa. Enjoy!

 

 

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