I Feel So Humbled!

For over a year now, I have been doing volunteer work for Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I am a communications liason, which basically means that I help answer Colleen’s emails.

In the past few years, as her message has been discovered by many thousands of people through her excellent podcast, she has received many letters from her listeners, fans of her books, audience members during her speaking engagements etc. Now, if Colleen, were to reply to all of these, I don’t think she would have time to do any other work! My job is to answer these emails as best as I can.

The emails that Colleen receives might be a nutrition question, a challenge they face being vegan, the heartache they experience when they first realise what is happening to animals or most often, a letter of thanks to Colleen and an expression of the joy they feel living this lifestyle.

How am I qualified to do this? Well, since becoming vegan, I have listened to Colleen’s podcasts many, many times. First of all they were just enjoyable to listen to but more importantly, I learnt many communication strategies through her and also I have an in-depth knowledge of her work and her message. I also NEEDED to listen many times. The ideas were so radically different to those that I had, I needed to listen to them multiple times in order to internalise the ideas expressed in them. This means that I am able to point people to which of Colleen’s resources they might find helpful and if that is not available, I keep up to date with so many other blogs and podcasts so they can get the resources they need. I don’t want to give anyone a reason to go back to eating animal products. I also think I am able to provide some guidance to those that write to Colleen. When writing for Colleen, I always try to stay empathetic and remember my own story.

The benefits I receive by doing this work, far outweigh the precious time I spend writing them. First of all, it gives me hope. When I just feel saddened by the incredible scale of animal suffering, I just have to read an email to know that people are changing and waking up and realizing that there is a healthy viable alternative is brilliant. I also get an incredible satisfaction to know  that I am helping people by giving them resources, or comfort and of course getting to work with my hero Colleen by doing this work is fantastic. I also love the fact that I get to hone my communication skills by doing this work. Each letter is an opportunity to speak for the animals. The more one practices, the better one becomes. It’s great for my own interactions with the people around me.

So, I have been doing this for a year now. I’ve got my little routine for answering. It usually happens on Friday evening and I hope to be doing to for a long time. I know Colleen appreciates my work (she tells me often and gives such lovely feedback) but I was incredibly humbled the other day when I listened to her podcast.

Each year, she does a podcast where she reads a collection of love letters she has received from people all around the world to give her listeners hope. This year’s episode was nearly 3 hours long! That’s a lot of love letters!

I am tickled pink because at around the 12 minute mark, Colleen takes some time to thank little ol’ me! If you want to hear what she has to say, you can click here and if you want to hear the kind of letters I have the honour of replying to, keep listening. 🙂

 

A Victory for Baketivism

It’s long been said amongst the vegan community that one of the biggest  (and easiest) things we can do to help open people’s hearts and minds towards adopting a cruelty-free diet is to show people that it is possible to not feel deprived, that there is no real sacrifice in  living this way and you CAN have your cake and eat it (pun intended). It’s a great activism tool for people that might not be comfortable doing other more direct things like leafletting or going to protests.

A couple of weeks ago the idea of a bake off was suggested by some members of staff on one of our inservice days at my amazing school,  the rationale being that it will put some fun in to the proceedings  and bring a sense of community. I thought that was a fantastic idea. I immediately got thinking that I should contribute something to this because this would be a fab opportunity for some baketivism, potentially showing the whole teaching staff about how delicious vegan baking could be. A few people already knew, but how awesome to show so many people in such a public setting!

I am a huge believer in the power of baketivism (a term coined by legendary vegan cookbook writer, Isa Chandra Moscovitz) and something I have been doing for a long time. Bringing in delicious baked goods has not only surprised people by how tasty they are, but many times has started a conversation about this issue. As anyone who knows me will be aware. I want to have a conversation about this issue and this is a great way to do it.

I had a lot of doubts. What if my baked goods didn’t make the cut. I wasn’t baking for myself (I am seriously  not competitive), but for the animals and if they were not good enough then I would be letting down the animals. It sometimes felt like it would be easier to not bother, then I decided that I’d suck it up and do it with all the effort I could muster.I was also up against a lot of very good bakers. Yikes.

I decided to bake three different things.  From following many blogs I knew that there were several recipes out there that were supposed to be off the hook awesome. I wanted to choose items that were especially decadent and possibly a bit fancier. I usually can’t be bothered with cupcakes. I suck at decorating and cupcakes require 2 phases, the cakes, and then the frosting. Meh!! Still, this was worth the investment of time. Thankfully we were off school for a few days so I could get ready.

My choices were;

1. Peanut butter and chocolate pillows from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

2. Chocolate and Banana Cheesecake from Vegan Pie in the Sky

3. Chloe’s Award Winning Ginger Nutmeg-Spiced Cupcakes from Chloe’s Kitchen.

I was especially keen to try the cupcakes. Gorgeous (and amazing ambassador for vegan living) Chloe competed against 3 other bakers using conventional ingredients in a TV show on the Food Network called Cupcake Wars and won much to the shock of the cupcake community! Would I have the same success?

So, over lunch the day before the ‘Shut Your Cake Hole’ baking contest we talked about how the ‘contest’ would  look like. It was decided that there would be a panel of 4 judges and they would sample all the baked goods and rate them on presentation, taste and texture. People sampling the baked goods would pay 10,000 IPR for a small plateful of whatever they liked and would get a couple of counters. They would be able to place their counters in a cup next to the baked goods they thought were their favourites.  This would serve as the People’s Choice award. It was also decided that we were try to keep the bakers’ identity secret. I was really pleased with this because on one hand I didn’t want people to be prejudiced against vegan goods and on the other hand I wanted vegan goods to stand alongside non-vegan baked goods as equals because I truly believe that they ARE as delicious as conventionally baked goods.

So, I knew what I was cooking but it did not go smoothly. I’d never cooked any of these dishes before.  I wasn’t sure about the chocolate cheesecake. It didn’t look that great and the bottom layer looked a little gray. This is probably because it of the banana in the it but I still wasn’t happy. I also had a crisis with the cupcakes. I thought I had followed the recipe properly the day before, but as I was cooking them, there was something that was not quite right. The cupcakes were taking too long to cook and they just didn’t look right when they came out of the oven. Early this morning (the morning of the bake off) I woke up early (as usual) and realised that I had used the wrong milk. I had used (homemade) almond milk from an unlabelled bottle instead of coconut milk (which was in a similar bottle). Stoopid, stoopid, stoopid!!!! This was probably the problem. The cupcakes would have a substancially lower amount of fat using almond milk and this would probably impact the taste. The chocolate peanut butter pillows did not look anything like the beautiful pictures on PPK website or  on other blogposts I’ve seen. I changed the name to choc peanut butter cookies.

So, I made another batch of cupcakes at 5:30 in the morning of the bake off. I frosted them at home, had a panic on the way to school that the frosting would slide off the cupcakes in the heat of an Indonesian morning. Had another crisis of confidence when I thought that my frosting looked like a white dog turd.

At 10, bakers met to plate our goods and for me to dribble over my date caramel sauce and give them a dusting of cinnamon. There was a respectable amount of entries, I think about 12 in all. The judges each had a plate with each entry on it in a taster portion. As we stuffed our faces I glanced over at the judges who were taking the job very seriously. Everyone was enjoying the baked goods but I was so worried about how many counters would be in the cups?

Towards the end of our morning tea break, our enigmatic head of school, John from the judging panel announced the results. Would this be a victory for the animals or not?

Well, I was beside myself when John announced that a chocolate slice had won 3rd prize this was actually my chocolate  and banana cheesecake. Huzzah! A victory! Second place went to  a dear colleague friend of mine who won with her mini-cupcakes beautifully decorated. First place was described as a muffin with lava on top!!! Sally said “Brighde, I think it’s yours!!” And it was!!! The cupcakes won the bake off. To top it all off, the cupcakes also won the People’s Choice Award! I was so excited. Seriously excited!! This felt like a wonderful victory for the animals in my little activist’s world.

My Chocolate Banana Cheesecake and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillows.

The winning cupcakes

Some other gorgeous entries! Some very inventive ones, for those that do not have ovens.

Sally’s beautiful mini cupcakes

People enjoying all the baked goods.

The judges’ tasting platters

John taking his role very seriously! 🙂

Much deliberating.

The judges are hard at it!

My prize to keep until the next bake off sitting proudly on my desk in my classroom.

Post Cleanse Reflection

I arrived back from my amazing summer trip about 3.5 kilos heavier than when I left and I was feeling seriously bloated and bleurgh. I often look forward to coming back home for a couple of reasons. 1. I get to see the cats and 2. I can get back in to my normal habits with eating and exercise. For me, I wanted to get back to eating properly and ideally lose the weight that I had put on over the holiday. These were my big priorities alongside getting started with my new position at school.

I decided I was going to do a cleanse when I came back from the USA before I even left for Canada. I even knew which one. I bought a copy of Ani’s 15-Day Fat Blast and it was waiting for me in Canada. Even the timing of the cleanse worked out well as Seb decided to prolong his trip by 2 weeks. I had the sneaky suspicion that he might not be in to this cleanse business as much as I would be.

Ani’s Book

On arrival, I was so excited to see that it would be easy to do in Indonesia although I did purchase some of the super foods that the book specified as I knew they wouldn’t be available there. I bought things like hemp protein powder and green matcha powder but I certainly don’t think you need to have them to get the same results as they could be easily substituted or omitted.

What is the cleanse about? The food on the cleanse is pretty much 100% raw. Ani divides the cleanse into 3 parts. The first 3 days are smoothies and cold soups only. The next 4 days add a salad in to the 5 daily meals mix and in the last 7 days more of a main meal is added in the evening. There is a wide range of different ingredients used to make the recipes and all of the ingredients have their own nutritional benefits. When you are doing this cleanse you are really just getting a huge range of very healthy foods in to your body.

Observations about the cleanse itself: First of all, I really don’t like the term cleanse. Sadly, these days there are so many negative associations with this word. You hear about the cayenne pepper and maple syrup cleanse and it just sounds ridiculous. However, to me, this actually was a cleanse  in the true sense of the word. It was about eating incredibly healthy food, rebooting my system after a few weeks of indulgence and hopefully installing some new habits. I think it is usually completely pointless to go straight back to what you were eating before a cleanse. I think you need to have some take aways and I really did from this experience. I am under no delusions that something magical happened to me to lose weight. I know that I lost weight because the calories I ate were less than the calories I expended which led to a calorie deficit. Ani talks about coconut oil being a fat burner. I am a little skeptical about this and many of the claims she made in her book as they were not properly referenced. I did do a calorie count of some of the days meals and I was certainly would have had a significant deficit each day however, the challenge with dieting is eating enough to feel satiated. Ani’s plan managed to do this most of the time probably due to the use of nuts and plenty of foods chock-a-block of fibre. I should also add that I stuck to the cleanse 100% with only a couple of dish or ingredient substituions when needed.

Reasons for doing the cleanse: Like I stated above. I wanted to lose the weight I had gained on holiday and feel a bit less bloated. I also wanted to try 100% raw for a while and follow a program that was quite rigid so I could see if there were any results. I also needed a bit of a reboot after a very decadent summer, try some more things and get in to some new habits. I also wanted to see what would happen if I went without gluten for 15 days. Would it make me feel any different like so many people say?

Positives:

  • I liked most of the food and some of it was surprisingly very good. It was quick and easy to prepare. Every work evening I would make dinner for that night and then breakfast, snack, lunch and snack for the next day. That’s 5 different things! I would say that I spend about 1 hour in the kitchen in the evening. Not too long considering.
  • I especially loved all the wonderful breakfast smoothies. Some of the combinations like ginger mint and pear, lime ginger shake were fantastic.
  • The food kept well in the fridge. This meant I could prepare food the night before and just take it to work.
  • I didn’t get to weigh myself until the end of the day 2 due to the batteries being empyty in my scale. My weight at the end of day 2 was 66.5kg. On the morning of day 16 at the end of the cleanse it was 62.4kg. That’s a total of 4 kg!  This was really exciting for me. I like the idea that I can just do a few days of eating this way if the kilos pile on and get rid of them. I felt so much lighter than before.

Negatives:

  • I didn’t like all the dishes. Some of them were only just edible for me (perhaps 10% of the total recipes). Luckily I am just one of those people that can usually get something I am not keen on down the hatch regardless. This would have been a bigger problem for someone who only likes to eat things that they like.
  • Secondly, I did get hungry from time to time. This was much more of a problem at the weekends. During the week when I was busy at school then there wasn’t usually time to get peckish and to stand in front of the fridge. The weekends when I was wandering around the house was much more of a problem as the meals didn’t keep me full for as long. This I find very telling. It shows that I often eat when I am bored / or have time on my hands. I didn’t think I was an emotional eater, but I might be when I’m bored. I need to work on strategies to deal with these feelings.
  • It wasn’t very social to be on a cleanse. I had to take my food with me when going out the the mall and eating it (during fasting month) was a bit of a challenge but I guess I am used to that. 🙂
  • For some people not used to vegan or raw food this might be a challenge. There are funny ingredients and very different foods to a the diet that most people eat. Lots of cold soups might freak some people out. This might lead to people giving up. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who are looking to try to go vegan as they might not be able to do it and then give up on veganism. I would recommend it to people who were fully open and committed to make drastic changes in their diet to see if it gives them results.
  • I would have liked to see a nutritional breakdown of the recipes. Of course, we can do it ourselves, but I think it adds a certain amount of validity to the book to have that. Also, on the 15 day meun plan I wish page numbers for the recipe could have been included. Going back to the index all the time was annoying. The book did have a very cheap feel to it and I also saw some problems with the index.
  • The groceries for the cleanse were a bit more expensive than I would normally spend. I had to have lots of avocados and also berries which were out of season. The “superfoods” I purchased were pricey as they always are, but I will be using long after the cleanse is over so during the cleanse they were not that expensive for the duration of the cleanse.

My Takeaways:

  • I will be reusing many of the recipes from her cleanse on a regular basis as I enjoyed them so much. I will also prepare my morning shakes the evening before and possibly a snack shake for lunch or a snack.
  • I’ll try to stick to similar portion sizes and snack on low calorie fruit and vegetables when needed. I love to eat and can put food away like nobody’s business, but I often find that the more I eat, the more my appetite increases. Keeping a moderate appetite will help keep me balanced.
  • I am also going to cut down on the amount of grains that I eat and try to have one or two serves a day only. Grains (even wholegrains) are high in calories and not very high in nutrition (compared to leafy greens for example). Of course, I love grains but I don’t think it is realistic for me to keep them out of the diet. I don’t want to and don’t need to (Seb wouldn’t like to be 100% raw and I don’t want to be cooking different meals) but limiting them to a couple of serves a day will help keep my calorie intake low.
  • I will try to eat 100% raw for two meals a day. I will try to eat very high % raw at the weekends.
  • Miso is my new BFF. Many of the savoury dishes called for some miso and it just adds that Umami flavour that most of us really like. I am sure this is when turned a dish from meh to really delicious.
  • I would certainly do this cleanse again if I put on weight or felt a bit bleurgh.

If you are interested in doing this cleanse, check out Ani’s book.

Intelligence Squared Debate

Intelligence Squared is a forum for debates of the current day issues. The speakers are smart, well-respected and eloquent. As I have learnt, it’s a great forum for some smart discussions.

A couple of months ago a debate happened in Melbourne.The title of the debate was “Meat Should Be Off the Menu”. One of the proponents, Philip Wolleen, a man I had never heard of before did a stirring speech for his segment. This went round the veg blogosphere like crazy. When I watched it, I had goosebumps and it moved me to tears. The passion with which he delivered his argument was incredible. I could almost feel the atmosphere in that debate room.

If you only have a short amount of time, please listen to his stirring speech.

I finally watched the whole debate. I was interested to see what the people opposing the issue would say. Would they have some fair points? Spoiler alert. They didn’t.

If you are a behavioral omnivore looking to see both sides of the debate and see whether the smartest people out there who can debate this issue are able to convince you that what you are doing is right or if perhaps there is another way.

The opposition’s arguments are weak to say the least. So incredibly weak even I can argue them conclusively. I wish they had to produce their sources for their arguments as if they did I am convinced they would be blown out of the water. In fact, one of the questions from the audience at the end asked for the peer-reviewed source for one of the speakers against the proposition who was talking about methane being required to keep the bacteria in the soil in a good state which was her ONLY argument. Could she produce it? No… The reason? The research hasn’t happened yet.

1. They referred several times to countries that still rely on animals such as the Hmong people in Northern Vietnam or the Mongolians raising yak. This arguments always makes me laugh and it is usually meat-eaters from the west. OK. I will concede that it will take some strategizing to help these people find a different way to support themselves but is that reason for YOU to keep eating meat. If that’s all you’ve got, then you need to look carefully at yourself and look at the arguments for taking meat off the menu.

2. One of the people against the motion states that there is not enough land for growing crops for the world. For me this absolutely doesn’t make any sense. Given that half of the world’s grain is grown for livestock the maths doesn’t add up.

3. “It would be unAustralian to take meat off the menu”. I mean… Seriously? Using our ethics of the past to explain what we do in the future. If we continued to follow this argument to its logical conclusion then we’d still be beating our wives, women wouldn’t have the vote and we’d still be keeping slaves.

4. “It’s natural.” This is a joke. There is no conclusive evidence to say that we know exactly what it was that our distant ancestors ate so this argument should be taken off the table until such a time it is agreed by researchers that we DID actually eat considerable amount of meat as caveman. I always thing it is hilarious that the ONLY time we like comparing ourselves to cavemen is when we want to continue eating meat.Don’t we pride ourselves on how far we’ve come?

5. “It’s my choice” Yeah… It’s your choice to choose what book to read, wear your hair and what you study. But as soon as your choices start impacting someone else then we have a problem. It’s our choice to drink alcohol, but it is not our choice once we decide to drink and drive.

6. “My grandparents are alive and well at 92 and they ate meat.” Anecdotal evidence of a couple of individuals is not the yardstick to measure the amount of cardio vascular disease or cancer in our society. He needs to read Bad Science.

7. “In order to keep them alive, we need to kill them.” Seriously? They are referring to rare breeds  that were bred and created by us. I have no problem if these creatures become extinct. Would it really matter compared to all of the other arguments?

I especially liked the questions from the audience. The people in the audience were obviously a smart bunch of people. And you know what? The poll taken from the members of the audience at the end? 76 % agreed that animals SHOULD be taken off the menu based on the arguments put forward.

When it comes down to it. Behavioral omnivores eat meat because they want to and because they can. You might not know HOW to make the change to a plant-based diet, but there are so many resources to help you do it. Give me a bell. I’ll help you and it won’t cost you a cent.

Las Vegas

Ahhh Wholefoods. We heart you.

I have to admit that I was not hugely excited about going to Las Vegas. It just didn’t sound like my cup of tea and if I am completely honest, it is not the kind of place where I want Seb to make it happen. It’s hot, brash and over the top, but I did have a fantastic time there. I can’t help but admire the ridiculousness of it all and boy and I certainly did appreciate the vegan friendliness of it all.

Steve Wynn, the owner of many of the swankiest casinos and hotels in Las Vegas became vegan for what I believe were health reasons a couple of years ago after watching Eating, a documentary about food that resonated with him. From what I understand he gave a copy of this film to all his employees and mandated that all the restaurants within his establishments should have vegan options and not just a couple of options that are just an after thought, he enlisted the help of one of the best vegan fine dining chefs around, Tal Ronnen to work with his chefs to put together menus that are really something else. Thanks Steve! One of the highlights was the 4th July brunch. My only serious complaint was that you had to ask for the vegan menu as it is kept with the maitre ‘D under the counter. All the staff knew about it and produced it the moment you asked, but I feel that it is a wasted opportunity. By not having it with everything else on the menu, it is not giving those people who would not ordinarily eat vegetarian food the chance to even see and be tempted by the veg version. I think if we are to really generate change, the vegan stuff should be on the same menu, because it really does taste just as good as the animal flesh and secretions versions and is certainly a lot kinder.

However, it’s a huge step in the right direction and for that I am very grateful.

Still, we did a lot of eating, but we also did a lot of sightseeing.

There were people rowing tourists around… Seriously.

We weren’t supposed to take this picture of Seb at the table. See the croupier’s hand?

Us at brunch

Our hotel, Tropicana!

Our pool

More pool

I love this pool!

In New York

Maija felt right at home.

Las Vegas by night

OK.. So we did do lots of eating

Inside the Wynn Casino