The (Vegan) Triple Bacon Salad | Why “Farmers Market Vegan”?

Over the course of the past four years of my blogging endeavors, my understanding of and relationship to food, veganism, social justice, and, yes, farmers markets has shifted considerably. Indeed, way back in 2011 when I first conceptualized my blog, I held rather naive, perhaps even romantic notions of all of these entities, and hadn’t even begun to realize the coalescing forms of structural subjugation rampant in our society.

Today, after a turbulent four years involving enrollment at a progressive college and eating disorder recovery, I’d like to think of myself as harboring more nuanced views on all of the above (though I certainly don’t purport to understand them in all their complexity). As such, this past summer I penned a new draft of my ever-developing story and blogging “mission statement” of sorts. Though I made this piece of writing available on the “About Me” page of my blog a couple of months ago, in an effort to share more broadly the new meaning behind my blog (and to free up some time in my hectic college-student schedule), I’d like to republish my “blogging autobiography,” if you will, in a separate post today.

Waiting at the bottom of this story is the recipe for an indulgent-tasting amalgamation of richly umami flavors and a satisfying contrast of hearty and crisp textures…with three shots of bacon (vegan, of course!). A bed of bacon-flavored salad greens (who knew that sesame oil, smoked paprika, and garlic powder combined to create an eerily accurate bacony taste?) forms the base of this salad, nearly charred roasted cauliflower and shiitake mushrooms provide bacon’s crispy-chewy juxtaposition, and succulent tempeh bacon tops the dish. To offset the richness of these three salad components, a drizzle of bright and tangy “ranch” dressing finishes everything off. An impressive meal-sized salad, if I ever saw one (and I’ve seen many).

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Birth of a Farmers’ Market Foodie

My relationship with food and activism began as early as childhood, when I would perch upon the kitchen stool alongside my mother as she prepared dinner that my family would share each evening. This youthful connection with food grew into a full “foodie” identity by age twelve, when my mother and I ogled at the culinary masterpieces showcased on Iron Chef and Top Chef every week. As a freshman in high school, I began planning, shopping for, and cooking my family’s weekly dinner menus. Having become quite the make-from-scratch-er, I soon began to disdain packaged convenience foods, due to both their low quality and ability to completely separate individuals from developing any sort of meaningful relationship with their food.

Naturally, my interest in high-quality, homemade, unprocessed food as well as its convivial nature led me to my local farmers’ market, where I first inhaled the succulent aroma of fresh heirloom tomatoes and gawked at rainbow-hued carrots while befriending the farmers who produced them. Though I had hardly begun to understand the full extent of the problems surrounding America’s current food system (and beyond), I still sought haven at the farmers’ market from the few predicaments I had already realized. My weekly interactions with devoted purveyors of organic produce, as well as with fellow shoppers who too became a bit verklempt over a particularly aromatic cantaloupe, provided me with a (rather naïve) foodie utopia of sorts.

Disorderly Conduct

Come sophomore year of high school, however, my enthusiasm for food had morphed into an unhealthy obsession after an amalgamation of factors—constant judging of young women’s bodies on my gymnastics team, pressure to perform perfectly in academics at my highly competitive high school—led to the development of a fierce eating disorder. With my thoughts constantly fixated on calories—both in terms of eating fewer and burning more—my life suddenly lacked joy and passion. All of my consciousness was focused on waiting for my next meal, as these were the only times when I would allow myself to actually partake in the act that saturated my every thought.

About a year and a half into my eating disorder, a classmate introduced me to veganism, to which I soon clung as a tool of further restriction. Lending less than a second thought to the ethical implications of a vegan lifestyle, I latched onto the diet for an unsuspicious reason to reject calorie-dense foodssuch as traditionally made baked goods, cream sauces, and ice cream (the vegan versions of which I now regularly enjoy). Conscious of this misguided and harmful reason for adopting a vegan diet, I felt uncomfortable every time I called myself a vegan—I knew I was a fraud.

A combination of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Vegetarian Food for Thought podcast and Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet began to pave my path from a depressed, waif-like, phony “vegan” into an inspired, healthy, committed animal rights activist. Introducing me to the intense injustices humans perpetrate against our fellow beings, Colleen and Alicia unflinchingly explained the forced insemination of female cows in the dairy industry, the pulverizing of live male chicks in the egg industry, the role of animal agriculture as one of the most significant contributors to the world’s most serious environmental problems, and a plethora of additional shocking truths.

Previously indifferent to anything unrelated to my obsessive eating habits, I now found a fierce passion ignited inside of me, a drive forceful enough to expel me from my zombie-like state and to shift my mental focus onto something vastly larger than myself – fighting the dominant, violent ideology of carnism.

Suddenly faced with the urgent yet overlooked issue of animal exploitation, I somehow managed to forget about preventing my thighs from meeting in the middle and not consuming more than 25 grams of fat per day. I realized that directing all of my energy toward adhering to arbitrary, self-imposed rules would contribute absolutely nothing to the movement of compassion for all beings. I disposed of my calorie-tracking charts, replacing them with animal advocacy leaflets. I ceased to Google the most effective ab-toning workouts, and instead launched this blog as an educational resource for my classmates who had never before encountered veganism. I even yearned to (and successfully did) gain weight to combat the mainstream notion of vegans as gaunt, frail, and unhealthy. The only unyielding imperative dictating my once laughably self-restricted food choices was now not to consume anything that promotes the needless suffering of sentient beings.

Utopia: Shattered

In the midst of this profound (and life-saving) transformation, I continued to patronize the farmers’ market—to this day, I still revel in my Saturday morning jaunts to the market. However, while after adopting a vegan lifestyle I still viewed the farmers’ market as an aspect of a potential reformation of America’s broken food system, I began to view many facets of the farmers’ marketas antithetical to what I perceived as its primary goal of broadening access to good, clean, and fair food. While I certainly couldn’t argue with the qualitative “goodness” of the market’s impeccable produce, I questioned the market’s tenets of “clean” and “fair” in terms of its support of animal agriculture.

Consumers who understandably reject nonindustrial animal agriculture due to the huge threats it poses to the environment often opt for animals raised in small-scale free-range, grass-fed, and cage-free operations. These seemingly more sustainable farming methods, however, still effect the environment quite negatively. For example, pastured organic chickens affect global warming 20 percent more than do caged hens. Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. If each grass-fed cow requires an average of 10 acres for grazing, and if we all 100 million of the cows in the U.S. on grass, then we would have to devote the entire Western half of the country’s land to cattle (this doesn’t even consider the space required of pastured chickens and pigs). As author, journalist, and author James McWilliams reminds us, “It’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all.” A truly “clean” farmers’ market would eschew the sale of animal foods.

To describe the “fair” aspect of its goals, Slow Food nobly affirms that, “we believe that food is a universal right.” I wholeheartedly agree, especially considering the inexcusable food deserts largely concentrated in America’s communities of color, or the 870 million people worldwide who do not have enough to eat. If we agree also, though, that autonomy over one’s own body functions as a universal right, then with animal agriculture we infringe upon this liberty while misguidedly seeking to ensure that advocated by Slow Food (I say “misguidedly” because if all of the crops grown to feed livestock became available for direct human consumption, the available food calories worldwide would increase by up to 70 percent).

Indeed, animal agriculture ensures the exploitation of non-human animals’ bodies while jeopardizing the health of the human animals who consume them, as well as the amount of crops available for direct human consumption. While we may not often hear tales of animal cruelty on small-scale farms, the treatment of animals on such operations often parallels that on factory farms.

The cage-free label, for example, only stipulates that hens live uncaged among up to thousands of other birds in barns or warehouses, generally without access to the outdoors; it also permits forced molting. Additionally, I learned on a trip to the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary during the summer of 2013 that every single one of the sanctuary’s cows—all of whom the sanctuary rescued from cases of intense abuse—came from small-scale, family farms.

Most importantly, however, I truly believe that supporting non-industrial animal agriculture inadvertently supports factory farming, since it does not question the notion of eating animals in general. As long as this carnist concept remains unchallenged, factory farms will always thrive, seeing as demand for meat will not decrease—and let’s face it, factory farms produce meat most efficiently, to the immense detriment of the nearly 10 billion land animals Americans consume each year. A “fair” farmers’ market would include non-human animals in the pool of beings whom they grant universal rights, especially if doing so meant that it would render the universal right of nourishing, plant-based food accessible to many more people.

Growth of an Activist

Coming to terms with the fact that the farmers’ market and the foodie community in general would probably not fulfill my idealistic notion of sparking a large-scale shift in America’s corrupt food system, I looked to strengthen my animal activism, becoming a devoted member of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) immediately upon entering my first year at Vassar College. Little did I know that freshman year (and beyond) would introduce me to a multiplicity of societal oppressions that existed among the speciesism that had kindled my activist flame. Suddenly, I found myself seeking to combat not only the exploitation of non-human animals, but such harmful “isms” as capitalism, colonialism, racism, sexism, ableism, neoliberalism, homophobia, and more.

However, this well-meaning intention first manifested itself in a questionable manner as I began to draw links between these newly encountered social justice issues and the ones I knew well: veganism and animal rights. I found myself thinking: “Women’s reproductive rights are violated…just like female farmed animals are artificially inseminated! Black and brown bodies are systemically exploited…just like the bodies of non-human animals!” Veganism and animal rights provided me a basis for understanding the social justice issues about which I hadn’t read extensively, yet I soon realized the problematic nature of this framing.

During the summer following freshman year, I and my close friend and VARC co-president found ourselves (as Vassar students often do) discussing intersectionality — a social theory suggesting that the various aspects of one’s identity intersect in complex ways, as do the ways one is treated by society because of such aspects. My friend said something hugely profound that day: “It’s not enough to appreciate social justice issues based on how they relate to the one in which we’re most involved. For real change to happen, we must understand the importance of such issues in and of themselves.” That statement has guided my activism ever since.

While I will never forget that veganism and animal rights opened the door to my commitment to advocacy, I’ve since begun learning about and contributing to other social movements — not because they relate to veganism, but because their fights prove necessary in fostering a more just society. I think that all activists must work to recognize the confluence of inequities prevalent in our world, for disparate activism has the potential to create animosity between the feminists over here and the animal rights activists over there. We must realize all of our fights as intimately connected, and commit to individually understanding all of them.

For me, an integral aspect of my intersectional activism involves challenging the problematic aspects of the current vegan movement, including its racism, sexism,ableism, and focus on capitalist, consumer-based strategies. Because these oppressions would exist even if I were not vegan, and my giving up veganism would enforce another very real oppression, challenging such exploitative facets of today’s vegan movement does not involve dismissing veganism altogether.

Instead, I try to engage in a number of actions in the hopes of combating the privileges (access to a bounty of plant-based foods, an income to obtain such foods, and a social circle that won’t disown my non-mainstream lifestyle) that allow me live a sustainable vegan lifestyle. Such actions include supporting admirable organizations like Food Not Bombs and the Food Empowerment Project that work to make nourishing vegan options accessible to marginalized communities; working to free myself of the capitalistic mindset of nonstop accumulation of material goods; working not to reinforce my various privileges in my daily interpersonal relations; and educating myself about the histories and current manifestations of various oppressions by devouring anti-racist, feminist, anarchist, etc. literature and following progressive news sources.

Veganism is only the first way in which I hope to challenge the capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, speciesist, etc. society that makes it super easy to thrive as a white, straight, cis-gender individual with an upper-middle-class background like me.

So…Why “Farmers’ Market Vegan”?

And thus, you have the long, convoluted story of my development as a vegan and an activist. The name of my blog—Farmers’ Market Vegan—serves as a nod to the origins of this story, as well as a reminder to all that combating systemic oppression in all manifestations involves much more than simply buying a bunch of kale at the local farmers’ market.


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The (Vegan) Triple Bacon Salad

Serves 2.

Ingredients:

2-4 oz tempeh, relatively thinly sliced
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp tamari
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
Pinch of cayenne

1/4-1/2 medium-sized head of cauliflower, cut into florets
6 large shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprkia
1/2 tsp liquid smoke

2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise (Just Mayo and Vegenaise are my favorites)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 tbsp fresh chives, minced

2-3 big handfuls of mixed salad greens, washed and dried
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, liquid smoke, tamari, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne (in the first grouping of ingredients). Toss the tempeh slices in the marinade and allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the salad components.

Toss the cauliflower florets and sliced shiitake mushrooms with the coconut oil, smoked paprika, and liquid smoke (in the second grouping of ingredients). Spread out in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the veggies are crispy.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the vegan mayo, water, apple cider vinegar, garlic, dill, parsley, and chives (in the third grouping of ingredients). Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Place each slice of marinated tempeh in the skillet and sear until browned, 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat.

While the tempeh cooks, in a large bowl, toss the mixed greens with the sesame oil, smoked paprika, and garlic powder (in the fourth grouping of ingredients).

To assemble, place a bed of half of the dressed salad greens on two large plates. Scatter half of the roasted veggies over each bed of greens. Place half of the tempeh bacon on top of each salad. Drizzle half of the ranch over each plate. Serve.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

Winter Squash Soup with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Basil | Where Did the Recipe Labels Go?

Congratulations to the winner of my Vega prize pack giveaway: Andrew Rogers!

When I launched my blog way back in August 2011, I had only just begun my journey of recovery from an anorexia-like eating disorder. (I say “anorexia-like” because, similar to most all individuals suffering from disordered eating, my experiences proved much too complex to neatly pathologize). While both my weight and comfort with eating/food in general increased – the former steadily, the latter sporadically – I still harbored a fear of putting foods I deemed “unhealthy” into my body. Essentially, as my anorexia-like disorder subsided, my orthorexia-like disorder endured, masking itself as a well-intentioned desire to make food choices that would nourish my body, but basing itself in the pseudoscience and trends that circulate among food blogs and Pinterest recipe boards.

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Recovering from this aspect of my eating disorder required re-imagining food outside of the false dichotomy I had created that categorized food into “good” and “bad,” as well as understanding that truly healthy eating involves both physical and mental wellbeing (read more on this subject in a previous post that also contains an awesome recipe for Ranch Potato Salad!). Removing these categories helped me to avoid seeing foods both as the effect I presumed they would have on my body (i.e., kale would turn me into a superhero while sugar would slowly dissolve my insides) and as a measure of my self-worth. It also helped me to re-root my veganism in a consideration of and respect for the bodies and minds of non-human individuals, rather than in an oft-touted belief that one can only achieve good health on a vegan diet – an assertion that erases the many cultures that have enjoyed long histories of vitality while including animal flesh and secretions in their eating habits.

squash tomato soup

Since de-categorizing my food choices served as an integral tool of my recovery, it seems only fitting that I also de-categorize the recipes on my blog. Previously labeled as “Low Fat,” “Low Sodium,” “Oil Free,” “Gluten Free,” “Nut Free,” and more, my recipes now only fall under one category: food. Of course, while I recognize and respect the reasoning of other bloggers to apply such labels to their recipes (allowing folks with food allergies to more easily find appropriate recipes, for example), doing so on my own blog now feels antithetical to my past and continued efforts to fully reconcile my relationship with food and eating.

squash tomato soup

To usher in this era without recipe labels, I’d like to share with you a creamy, full-bodied soup ideal for bridging the summer and fall as we undergo this period of seasonal transition. In late September-early October here in the Northeast, we’re seeing winter squashes popping up alongside summer’s fading basil bounty, and it only feels natural to me to follow the earth’s logic and combine them in a warming concoction to enjoy on the chilly days starting to weave through the waning heat. Sundried tomatoes provide richness and umami, while a touch of vinegar brightens the soup at the very end.

Is this recipe low in or free of anything? Only fear.

Winter Squash Soup with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Basil

Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:

2 tsp coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium winter squash such as butternut, buttercup, or acorn, cubed
4 cups vegetable broth or water
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (the kind not packed in oil)
1/2 of a large bunch of basil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

In a large soup pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion for 5-7 minute, or until it turns translucent. Add the salt and garlic and saute for another minute. Add the squash cubes and saute for another minute. Add the sundried tomatoes and broth/water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then partially cover, lower the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Stir in the basil.

Puree the soup either with an immersion blender, or (carefully!) in batches in a standing blender. Add water to thin, if desired. Stir in the apple cider vinegar. Bring back up to heat on the stove, and serve when the soup has reached your desired temperature.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

Slow Food for Fast Lives Bars Review & GIVEAWAY!

Sorry, this giveaway has closed!

I know, I know – the amount of Farmers Market Vegan giveaways this summer has gotten a wee bit out of hand. Somehow, though, I feel that you, dear readers, don’t really mind all of these chances to win free, high-quality vegan products…so what the hey? Howsabout a fifth summer giveaway here on FMV?

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Today I’d like to introduce you to a truly unique line of products from the on-the-go, health-conscious folks over at Slow Food for Fast Lives. Finding themselves with hectic schedules that made sitting down regularly for a nourishing meal quite difficult, the company’s founders – Danny, Mel, and Patricia – combined their appreciation of good food with their desire to provide healthy options for individuals with bustling agendas. With Danny’s innovative idea of launching the market’s first savory snack bar and Mel’s entrepreneurial skills behind her, Patricia employed her imaginative cooking skills in combining farmers’ market produce with nuts, spices, and unrefined sweeteners to create a line of vegetable-based bars in a variety of globally inspired flavors. Not only did these bars far surpass a taste test, they also each contained 1-1.5 servings of veggies and ample amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

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Since Patricia emerged from her kitchen with that first batch of sumptuous home-cooked bars, Slow Food for Fast Lives has shared its breakthrough products with retailers in California and the Southwest, as well as online, in the hopes of helping busy folks across the U.S. to “eat present, not tense.” While the company’s line currently features four bars – California, Indian, Moroccan, and Thai – the founders constantly have their culinary thinking caps on, perfecting such future flavors as Italian, Japanese, and Mexican. They also eagerly welcome suggestions from consumers on what slow food flavors they’d like to enjoy in their fast lives at info@eattruefoods.com.

While all of Slow Food for Fast Live’s bars are gluten-free and kosher, the California bar does contain honey; the rest of the three are completely vegan! (Check out why I don’t advocate the consumption of honey here.) As such, in this post I’ll only be reviewing the Indian, Moroccan, and Thai flavors.

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I first journeyed into the world of Slow Food for Fast Lives with the Moroccan bar: a vibrantly hued blend of crunchy pistachios, chewy currants, sweet carrots, protein-rich lentils, attractive black sesame seeds, and smooth tahini spiced up with lemon, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and cumin. Featuring hearty chunks of each ingredient instead of constituting a homogeneously blended bar, the Moroccan bar offered a multiplicity of interesting textures mingling with bold flavors. Of the three bars I sampled, I might just prefer the Moroccan bar the most.

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The Thai bar made the next appearance in my Slow Food for Fast Lives tasting tour. Boasting a double whammy of peanuts and peanut butter, crispy brown rice, succulent red bell peppers, and zippy green onions in a bright and spicy mix of lime juice, dried basil, garlic and onion powders, and chiles, the Thai bar definitely got the spice sensors on my tongue all a-tingling. Though I didn’t expect such a pleasant piquant-ness in my snack bar, I found gastronomic memory harkening back to my favorite Thai restaurant in my hometown of Madison, WI after biting into this bar.

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My snack bar trip around the globe ended with the Indian bar – a close second favorite behind the Moroccan bar. Reminding me of a samosa dipped in mango sauce or a coconut curry (but in snack bar form), the Indian bar made supremely savory use of rich cashews and coconut, cauliflower, lentils, hearty potatoes, sweet peas, and buttery mangoes accentuated with tomato powder, turmeric, onion, chili pepper, ginger, and cumin. Redolent with the flavors of curry without being overwhelming, this smooth, chewy bar proves warming and satisfying.

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Have I engaged in enough culinary wordplay to persuade you all to incorporate some slow food into your fast lives? Well, lucky for one of you, the folks at Slow Food for Fast Lives have generously offered to gift a pack of their nourishing, tasty, and inventive bars to a Farmers Market Vegan reader. Simply click on one of the links at the top and bottom of this post, follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter giveaway, and get those fingers crossed. Also be sure to connect with Slow Food for Fast Lives on Facebook and Twitter!

This giveaway will end at 11:59 pm on Sunday, August 17, and I will announce the winner on the following day.

Sorry, this giveaway has closed!

I was not paid to run this giveaway, though I was provided with free product samples. All opinions are completely my own.

In solidarity, Ali.

Ellovi Body Butter Review & Giveaway

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 Farmers Market Vegan’s big ol’ Tofurky giveaway may have ended only last week, but I’m elated to host for you, dear readers, a second giveaway during the month of March. This one comes courtesy of dynamic vegan duo Kelly Winterhalter and Ryan Pamplin, co-founders of the all-natural, animal-friendly, and sustainably sourced cosmetic company known as Ellovi. A couple of weeks ago, Kelly kindly contacted me requesting that I review one of Ellovi’s two products—their six-ingredient body butter—and I have nothing but laudatory words to say about it.

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 A cloud-white blend of oils from macadamia nuts, coconuts, marula, hemp seed, and shea, Ellovi Body Butter contains such pure ingredients that you could slather it on a piece of toast and chomp away. While the butter contains no added fragrance, its delicately nutty aroma will leave you fervently sniffing the jar, your hands, and anything else the butter touches. Not only does the butter serve as a highly effective moisturizer due to its omission of water and therefore its inability to evaporate like other lotions, it also works well as a facial moisturizer, makeup remover, and sunscreen—and it’s perfect for sensitive skin.

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The first time I dipped my finger into the jar, the rich yet airy texture of the butter duly surprised me, as I had expected a thinner, more fluid substance. Not so—the Ellovi Body Butter proves so thick that you could easily stand a spoon straight up in its jar. Though it did seem like I had to use more of the butter than of a conventional moisturizer to spread on my entire body after a morning shower, I didn’t have to reapply the butter at all throughout the rest of the day. Even after washing my hands, they still felt moisturized by the butter—and this in the dead of winter, mind you!

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Though the price of the butter does prove a bit steep at $26 per jar, the impeccable quality of its ingredients and its impressive moisturizing abilities merit the expense (at least once in a while).

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Luckily, one of you, dear readers, will have the ability to revel in the vegan moisturizing goodness of Ellovi Body Butter for free! By entering the giveaway at the links at the top and bottom of this post, one of you will win your very own jar of Ellovi Body Butter plus a tube of Ellovi Lip Butter. Your hands, arms, legs, belly, lips, and everywhere else on your body will thank you for entering.

The giveaway will end at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2, and I will announce the winner on Thursday, April 3. Apologies to my international readers, but you must reside within the U.S. in order to enter this giveaway.

Good luck to all!

This giveaway has closed!

I was not paid to run this giveaway, though I was provided with free product samples. All opinions are completely my own.

Until next time, Ali.

Digestive Woes of Eating Disorders and Why I’m Not Gluten-Free Anymore

Hello again, dear readers! After a much-needed month-ish-long break from the blogosphere, I’m thrilled to return to the good ol’ blog, especially because, boy oh boy, do I have some exciting posts, reviews, and giveaways lined up for all of you. For the next two weeks, my posts will come to you from Florence, Italy—a city near and dear to my heart, where I’ve visited my aunt every other year since the age of three. This year, I’m fortunate enough to spend my college’s spring break there with one of my very good friends and my parents. Rest assured, I’ll be providing you, dear readers, with plenty of reports of Florentine vegan eats and adventures, intertwined with two super fabulous giveaways. Moral of the story: keep a close eye on Farmers Market Vegan for the month of March! (And beyond, of course).

The post to break my blogging hiatus, however, does not concern Italy or free vegan products. Rather, it continues the conversations proliferated by National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week 2014. Though the event concluded a couple Saturdays ago, I feel it hugely important to make an ongoing discussion of this highly stigmatized topic.

As so often happens, the inimitable Gena of Choosing Raw planted the idea seedlings for this post. Two weeks ago Gena featured three highly thoughtful posts in light of NEDA Week 2014—a mention in the first of which particularly caught my attention. In her post “Five Reasons to Embrace Recovery,” Gena lists the fact that recovery can save your life (a notion I touch upon in my narrative on Our Hen House regarding my recovery through veganism). In addition to the immediate physical symptoms of eating disorders, Gena notes the significant long-term health tolls EDs can take on one’s body. For me, the most notable of these are digestive disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

If you’ve followed Farmers Market Vegan for a substantial amount of time, you’ll know that I’ve battled digestive stress for about three years now, very much in conjunction with my ED recovery. I chalked up frequent abdominal cramping, gas, and less-than-happy trips to the restroom to my assumed consumption of insufficiently washed produce, spoiled leftovers, and certain hard-to-digest foods. To mitigate these supposed culprits of digestive woe, I incorporated any and all foods touted as digestives into my diet—fermented foods; spices like ginger, fennel, peppermint, and their teas; etc. I joined in the recent widespread condemnation of gluten. I supplemented with digestive enzymes and probiotics. I developed a short series of yoga postures known to facilitate digestion. Nothing significantly improved my symptoms.

This past December, I finally decided that something beyond food choice and sanitization proved responsible for my ongoing digestive troubles. Indeed, a visit to my internal medicine doctor provided me with a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)—a functional disorder of the large intestine that affects bowel contraction, resulting in cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and other fun symptoms. Every case of IBS is highly individualized, meaning that there exists no one medication or treatment for the disorder. Luckily, IBS does not affect long-term health or cause other health complications, but can significantly impact daily quality of life (and oh boy, does it). While it’s difficult to know that I’ll have to deal with IBS symptoms for the rest of my life, I’m super happy to give a name to my digestive woes, rather than to worry at every meal about how my stomach will feel afterwards, or to hypothesize about other more severe health complications that might cause my symptoms.

Interestingly, a number of women I know who have a history of disordered eating also now suffer from IBS which, according to recent research, proves a common correlation. Out of 73 ED patients involved in a 2010 study, 97% suffered from at least one functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) (a category that includes IBS). Another study prior to this one found that, out of 89 respondents, 87.6% had an onset of their ED prior to IBS symptoms, 6.7% had an onset of IBS prior to their ED, and 5.6% had an onset of their EDs and IBS the same time. Additionally, the latter study noted that those who suffer from EDs and IBS tend to share certain personality traits—perfectionism, negative self-evaluation, self-blame, chronic stress— and early developmental factors—childhood trauma, physical and sexual abuse. They also overwhelmingly tend to be women.

I find it the fact that there exists such a correlation between EDs and IBS fascinating—and completely logical. On a rather obvious level, disordered eating behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and restriction all but guarantee digestive complications. Less conspicuous, though, are the psychological similarities between both disorders: EDs and IBS prompt a “hyper-vigilance to internal sensations” and eating behaviors, as noted in research by Perkins et al. As I mentioned above, I first attributed my digestive complications to certain foods I consumed, demonizing gluten, peanut butter, and other foods known to cause digestive troubles. Such a habit reminds me of Steven Bratman’s definition of orthorexia as “a tendency to assume that every single physical symptom is a direct result of something we’ve eaten,” and thus signals to me a severe hindrance in my recovery largely inspired by digestive ailments. Developing a similar mindset towards food as that which plagued me during the most intense periods of my ED, I became essentially scared of certain foods due to my perception of their responsibility for my digestive troubles. To me, it comes as no surprise that many other women have experienced this phenomenon, especially considering the common advice given by internal medicine practitioners to keep a food journal to help identify “trigger foods,” or those that tend to cause an individual digestive upset.

Thankfully, with a clear plan of how to deal with my IBS came the much more relaxed mindset toward food that I had worked to cultivate throughout my recovery. Since I consume such a wholesome diet, it seems nonsensical to me (and medical practitioners to whom I’ve spoken) that treating my IBS would necessitate a dietary shift, or a naming of “trigger foods.” Instead, I’ve started taking a prescription-strength probiotic as well as a teaspoon of psyllium husk (a portion of an Indian plant that is essentially all soluble fiber) stirred into my morning smoothie everyday. These remedies have worked marvelously since I began employing them, and have considerably aided me in shunning the “food is enemy, food makes your gut unhappy” voice inside my head.

With this foregoing, I’ve re-embraced the foods that I perceived to upset my digestion. Most notably, I’ve begun eating gluten again, and with vigor. Both my body and soul have responded with amazing positivity towards bread, sandwiches, and other glutinous foods—my goodness, does it feel good to bite into the chewy-crunchy-creamy layers of a chickpea salad sandwich again! Though dubious at first that a reintroduction of gluten would not cause me digestive upset, it makes sense to me now, especially considering the fact that “dietary variety also helps to help bolster digestive strength,” a fact that Gena has witnessed first-hand from working with a GI doctor. So, dear readers, you can expect to see some glutinous recipes appearing on the blog from now on (though I’ll be sure to include gluten-free substitutions for those of you who suffer from actual gluten/wheat intolerances).

I think that the connection between eating disorders and digestive complications both emphasizes the long-term health detriments of EDs, and suggests a more understanding approach to treating digestive disorders. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, and/or if you’ve had similar experiences.

And with that, I’ve got a plane to catch! My next post will reach you from Florence, Italy.

Until next time, Ali.

A Response to “Veganism is Celibacy” from an Eating Disordered Perspective

All photos taken at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

A couple of weeks ago, I began my morning—as I do every Saturday—by listening to the then latest episode of Our Hen House (at which I now serve as a Contributing Writer, whoo hoo!). Jasmin and Mariann, during their preliminary “Ramblings” section, discussed two articles that referred to veganism as akin to celibacy, the latter of which deemed it “a form of dietary totalitarianism,” a regime that “sucks out the joy” from eating.

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Synonymous with celibacy is abstention—the act of voluntarily holding oneself back. Integral to totalitarianism is control—the exercise of restraint. The absence of joy connotes the absence of pleasure—a feeling of satisfaction.

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I’m deeply familiar with this state of abstention, control, and lack of gratification surrounding food. My catchall term for this state? Eating disorder. In high school, I eagerly held myself back from consuming calorie-dense foods, in disgusted awe of those who dared to eat peanut butter sandwiches and baked goods. I controlled every calorie that entered my mouth, tracking each morsel of food on a macronutrient chart and making sure to restrain myself from consuming over 1200 daily calories. I gained no pleasure from eating, simultaneously overwhelmed during meals with the fear that I would consume “too many” calories, and with the stifled yearning to finally feel dietarily satisfied.

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In contrast to the two aforementioned articles’ authors, as well as to this disordered mindset, veganism both reintroduced meaning into my life and aided me in viewing food as friend rather than adversary. Soon after discovering veganism, my obsession with not consuming more than 25 grams of fat per day paled in comparison to the urgent yet overlooked issue of animal exploitation. I strove to gain weight in order to combat the mainstream notion of vegans as frail, gaunt, and unhealthy. I found a sense of empowerment in voting with my meal choices against the oppressive system of animal agriculture, eager and proud to consume all of the edibles in the plant kingdom (even those I had before demonized, such as…gasp, full-fat coconut milk?!?!?). Most of all, I pushed away the shadow of gloom lingering over my restrictive, fanatic lifestyle, welcoming in the sense of purpose, the passion, the joy with which veganism imbues my life.

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Emerging from my introverted hibernation (eating disordered depression proves quite adverse to quality social relationships), I found communion with the world around me, first and foremost through the non-human animals for whom I soon began to advocate. As an individual with access to adequate plant-based food sources and the funds to purchase them, I found the act of not eating the flesh and secretions as a logical extension of my newfound harmony with the broader world. In the words of Buddhist philosopher Joanna Macy in her book Active Hope, “When we perceive our identity as an ecological self that includes not just us but also all life on Earth, then acting for the sake of our world doesn’t seem like sacrifice. It seems a natural thing to do” (76). 

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Replacing the chickens on my plate with maple-glazed tempeh and the dairy-based cheese in my salad with aged cashew cheddar does not add any militancy nor detract any pleasure from my life. On the contrary, doing so has opened up a world of flavors, textures, and ingredient preparations of which I never before dreamed.

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I completely understand that, for many individuals suffering from eating disorders, veg(eteri)anism can serve to perpetuate dietary regimentation. However, I’d like to introduce an alternate perspective to this unfortunate phenomenon, as well as to the authors of the articles in question (most likely neither of whom, as well-off white males, have had to face the same lifelong media bombardment dictating how female bodies “should” look). For me—as well as others featured in Choosing Raw’s “Green Recovery Series”veganism proved integral in transforming my life from the empty one described in both articles into a vibrant, fulfilling one.

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Veganism is not celibacy. Veganism is not totalitarianism. Veganism is a respect for all life put into practice in a world that frowns upon such respect, but that with our activism, won’t be frowning for much longer.

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Until next time, Ali.

Vegan Delish Giveaway & Recipe for No-Bake Apple Pie

Vegan Delish sized for blog use

Get excited, folks, for I’m about to announce Farmers Market Vegan’s first ever giveaway! That’s right, dear readers, three of you lucky ducks have the chance to win a quite fabulous prize: a free download code for the iPhone/iPod recipe app Vegan Delish. Scroll to the bottom of this post to enter.

easy recipes Vegan Delish screenshot

Launched by the talented blogger, recipe developer, and graduate in public health nutrition Carrie Forest of Carrie on Vegan, Vegan Delish offers over 140 nourishing, mouthwatering recipes—all of which are vegan, gluten-free, made with minimal oil, salt, and added sugars, and accompanied by high-definition photos. New and veteran vegans, vegetarians, and those seeking to explore a plant-based diet will enjoy Vegan Delish not only for healthy and easy recipes, but also for a digital shopping list; social media sharing, recipe scaling, and kitchen timer functions; and recipe ratings and reviews—all without any ads. From Vegan Delish’s multiplicity of well-tested recipes and features, it comes as no surprise that the App Store lists it as one of the top 25 Paid Food & Drink Apps.

ipad-banner shopping list ipad-banner sharing

ipad-banner photos ipad-banner new recipes

To further enthuse you about this fabulous app and giveaway, check out a sampling of recipes featured on Vegan Delish:

–Mock Tuna Salad
–Buckwheat Pancakes with Maple Cashew Cream
–Cauliflower Pizza Crust
–Vegetable Quinoa Salad
–Avocado Chocolate Pudding
–Brown Rice & Lentil Salad
–Veggie Sushi Rolls
–Red Lentil Dal
–Almond Date Balls

As if Carrie had not already adequately showcased her generosity by offering up three free download codes for Vegan Delish, she also offered for me to share a recipe from the app—one for No-Bake Apple Pie—right here, right now.

No-Bake Apple Pie

Published with permission from Vegan Delish.

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (divided)
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup orange juice
6 Fuji apples
1 1/2 cups medjool dates, pitted
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons cinnamon (divided)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats

Instructions:

1. Core the apples and cut them into bite-sized pieces.

2. Combine the apples, orange juice, raisins, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of the vanilla extract into a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until apples are softened. Stir in nutritional yeast and set aside to cool.

3. Place almonds, walnuts, and oats in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the remaining cinnamon and vanilla extract. Turn the food processor on and add the dates through the feeding tube one at a time. Process until mixture is well combined.

4. Pour the contents of the food processor into the pie dish and use your hands to spread evenly into the dish. Place the crust in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

5. When you are ready to assemble the pie, pour the apple mixture into the pie crust and serve cold or at room temperature.

Bakeless Apple Pie 2 Bakeless Apple Pie 1

Let’s face it: how could you not enter this giveaway? Simply click on the link below and you could be one of three winners, whom I will announce on Monday, November 11.

***NOTE: This giveaway is only open to U.S. residents. The codes will only work on iPhones and iPads.***

This giveaway has closed. Congrats to Eric, Anna, and Erika!

Piece Published on Our Hen House: How I Recovered from an Eating Disorder through Veganism

I’m thrilled, honored, amazed, verklempt, and every other related adjective to inform you all, dear readers, that the hub of vegan indie media Our Hen House just published a piece of mine on their online magazine. The piece tells the story of how I recovered from an eating disorder through veganism—the compassionate lifestyle offered me an altruistic means of redirecting my inwardly focused energies, and allowed me to realize the dominant societal forces that both influenced my eating disorder and exploited non-human animals.

The piece functions as the first instance during which I’ve spoken completely candidly about my past of disordered eating (at least in the online realm). While I’m certainly not suggesting that all those suffering from eating disorders should adopt a vegan diet while in the throes of a super scary time, I felt it necessary to offer my view that discovering a passion outside of oneself can aid immensely in recovering from an eating disorder. If you’d like to read more stories from brave individuals who found healing through veganism, check out Gena’s fabulous Green Recovery Series over at Choosing Raw.

Check out my piece on Our Hen House here!

Much love, Ali.

DC Restaurant & Yoga Exploration: Yoga District & District Tea Lodge

For those of us lucky enough to have the funds, geographical access, and physical ability necessary to engage in a frequent studio yoga practice, moving to a different location can prove difficult, since doing so means bidding good-bye to a well-loved studio community and seeking out a new one in which to hopefully foster the same sort of connections and support group. Granted, cultivating a fulfilling yoga practice certainly does not require a studio membership or even a mat, necessarily—indeed, during the school year I happily practice yoga alone in my room, either guiding myself through the asanas or following along with a free podcast provided by Jivamukti teacher Jessica Sage Stickler, since I can’t easily access a studio near campus without a car.

That’s yours truly in the bright blue tank top with the short brown hair at my hometown studio.

While I find that a solo practice does minimize distractions and eliminate any tendency of judgment or one-upmanship toward other yogis, it lacks a sense of community, of “We’re-in-this-together-even though-this-advanced-arm-balance”-ness, of powerful energy only generated by a room full of individuals united in a physical manifestation of peace. Not only can yoga studios provide a supportive group of oft like-minded people, they also play an integral role in developing the base of a safe and joyful yoga practice for newcomers, as well as in offering the advanced yogic knowledge (physical, mental, and spiritual) necessary for longtime yogis to continue to find excitement in their practice.

Returning to the notion of finding a new yoga studio after moving to a different area, I’ve shifted between three studios in the past year thanks to moves from my hometown of Madison, WI to Vassar College in New York, and from Vassar to my summer home of Washington D.C. Madison offers the heated, fast-paced intensity of Inner Fire, at which my love of yoga first blossomed; New York offers the deep spirituality, advanced physicality, and vegan philosophy of Jivamukti (though I don’t visit the studio as often as I’d like since it requires a two-hour train ride from Vassar to get there); and DC offers the unpretentiousness, activist-oriented programming of Yoga District.

Boasting six brightly sunlit, immensely welcoming studio spaces around DC, Yoga District features a variety of classes from beginner to advanced, vinyasa to kundalini, and yogalates to AcroYoga. The studio strives to render the innumerable benefits of yoga financially accessible to as many individuals as possible with its yoga work/study program, sliding scale fees, and donation-based classes, providing a refreshing reminder of yoga’s humble roots—an aspect of the practice so often forgotten in an age of $20 drop-in classes and expensive yoga gear advertised as necessary for a “proper” practice ($40 for a mat towel? No thanks).

Yoga District’s vision of spreading the yogic message of peace, health, and overall wellbeing to those who may not otherwise find the practice manifests itself no better than in the studio’s Yoga Activist program. A nonprofit that partners yoga teachers with social service organizations, Yoga Activist runs on the notion that “every being deserves the  holistic benefits of yoga as a practical tool of empowerment, self-soothing, self-healing, and coping.” Yoga Activist currently partners with organizations that support cancer survivors and patients, domestic violence survivors, eating disorder patients and survivors, homeless communities, communities affected by HIV/AIDS, prisons, seniors, trauma survivors, veterans, and youth—and they’re ever willing to partner with more.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

I would consider the Yoga Activist program social justice outreach at its finest, since it provides an effective method by which largely disenfranchised groups can cultivate a sense of autonomy in a society that’s toxic cultural norms previously overpowered them—this program functions as the antithesis of a Band-Aid solution. Indeed, a 1980 social study by Michael Dillbeck found that “during periods when large-scale Transcendental Meditation groups numbering more than 1% of the population were holding regular meditation sessions, researchers did find a statistically significant reduction in the rate of fatalities resulting from automobile accidents, suicides, and homicides in the United States.” The phenomenon discovered from this study, known as the Maharishi Effect, helps to prove the societal value of spreading yoga and meditation practices well beyond the affluent group to which the modern, Westernized realm of yoga primarily caters. Thankfully, programs like Yoga Activist accomplish just that.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

Not only does Yoga District engage in hugely beneficial community outreach, it also succeeds where so many yoga studios fall short of fully embracing the integral yogic tenet of ahimsa (nonviolence)—it advocates veganism. Unlike Jivamukti in NYC, Yoga District does not directly incorporate discussion of a vegan lifestyle into the inspirational prose offered by its teachers, but the studio outspokenly supports a vegan lifestyle in other manners. For example, at the beginning of the summer, Yoga District students had to pay a $100 membership fee in order to participate in the studio’s unlimited monthly yoga program (to my understanding, Yoga District does not require membership anymore). However, in the spirit of offering maximally accessible yoga, the studio waived the membership fee for students, non-profit workers, and vegans. The fact that Yoga District legitimizes a vegan lifestyle in such a manner further highlights the studio’s commitment to truly fostering a just, equitable society for all.

Additionally, the I Street location of Yoga District features an all-vegan, high-raw café known as District Tea Lodge on the studio’s lower level. The wood-paneled, warmly lit dining space features a long communal table; a bar with kombucha on tap, behind which the cafe’s friendly chefs prepare fresh, seasonal, organic, and hugely nourishing fare; and a case displaying a daily selection of raw desserts. While the café certainly lives up to its namesake, boasting a wide selection of handcrafted tea blends, District Tea Lodge also knows a thing or two about handcrafting wholesome vegan noms. A creamy, optionally green smoothie; a fruity chia pudding; a “big daily bowl” with whole grains, plant-based protein, greens, veggies, and dressing; and raw cookies and puddings always grace the District Tea Lodge menu, though the specifics of these dishes varies according to produce seasonality and availability.

Tea Lodge communal table.

Tea Lodge communal table.

My experience at District Tea Lodge happened to fall on the same weekend during which my parents visited me in DC, so I had the pleasure of enjoying the humble café with my dear mother. The “big daily bowl” that day featured quinoa, steamed tempeh, lightly cooked kale, sliced cucumber, and julienned beets and kohlrabi in a choice of dressing (my mother and I both chose the creamy tahini dressing, but they also offer Asian amino and apple cider vinegar & oil). While I’ve long adored the blissful simplicity of the vegan bowl, this one erred on the side of ersatz rather than pleasantly uncomplicated. The bowl certainly showcased the fresh crispness and bold flavor of each individual veggie, but with its unseasoned tempeh, a fairly scant drizzling of tahini dressing, and an oddly disproportionate amount of quinoa to veggies (one can only eat so much plain quinoa without becoming bored, after all), I found myself quite underwhelmed with the dish.

Big Daily Bowl

Big Daily Bowl

Other offerings that day included a raw almond hummus with sliced cucumbers, a raw tomato-basil bisque, and a kohlrabi slaw in a creamy sunflower seed-basil dressing—my mother and I opted to split the latter. The kohlrabi slaw proved much more dynamic and enjoyable than the bowl, highlighting the earthy brightness of the kohlrabi and beet batons, yet harboring enough dressing to provide interest and textural contrast.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Though perhaps the newly opened District Tea Lodge’s savory offerings require a bit of improvement, its selection of nourishing, wholesome raw sweets has already reached top quality. Equally as simple as the cafe’s savory fare yet much more satisfying and gastronomically captivating, District Tea Lodge’s daily dessert variety includes artfully prepared raw cookies, brownies, tarts, mousses, and chia puddings in dynamic yet familiar flavors. On the night of our visit, the café featured a mango pudding tart, a chocolate avocado mousse, a pecan brownie, and almond cookies with either cashew-chocolate or raspberry frosting. My mother and I partook in the first two options, reveling in the creamy, healthful decadence of our strawberry-topped dessert selections. While I harbor absolutely no qualms with the impeccable pudding-y portions of our desserts, the very small criticism that I must make regards the somewhat dry, crumbly texture of the mango tart’s crust—an issue easily remedied by a more thorough blending of nuts and dates in the food processor.

Raw dessert case.

Raw dessert case.

Mango tart.

Mango tart.

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Chocolate mousse.

Relatively in keeping with Yoga District’s mission of affordability, District Tea Lodge’s fare proves quite inexpensive ($8 for a generously sized daily bowl, $3-5 for a side such as the almond hummus, and $4 for a dessert), especially when compared to most all other high-raw restaurants I’ve visited, as well as to other DC-area restaurants of the cafe’s caliber—the daily bowl closely parallels the cost of a Chipotle entrée, for goodness’ sake! District Tea Lodge’s teas, however, cost a much prettier penny: $5 for a single mug of tea. I do understand the expense, though, seeing as the café ethically sources the teas, herbs, and spices featured in its blends.

Needless to say, I’ve developed a close kinship with the Yoga District community, both with its yoga classes and teachers as well as its support of a vegan lifestyle. I’ll fondly remember my immensely positive experiences with the studio after returning to Vassar this upcoming weekend, and intend to return for a drop-in class if I ever find myself in the DC area again.

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant Exploration: Woodland’s Vegan Bistro (formerly Everlasting Life Cafe)

Ask anyone familiar with the veg-friendly eatery scene in DC for restaurant recommendations and they’ll invariably mention two restaurants: Sticky Fingers Bakery (which I reviewed about a month ago) and Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. These two establishments have long reigned over DC’s veg restaurant kingdom, and any DC-area vegan, vegetarian, veg-curious folk, or person who enjoys eating fabulous food should prioritize patronizing both of them—perhaps three times each, if they and I share any commonalities.

As I’ve already introduced you, dear readers, to the delights of Sticky Fingers Bakery, I’ve reserved this post to discuss the delightfully unexpected fusion of comfort and health food known as Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. Formerly named Everlasting Life Café, Woodland’s specializes in 100% plant-based versions of traditional soul food dishes including barbeque seitan ribs, fried “fish” sandwiches, mashed maple sweet potatoes, smoky collard greens, and “the best mac & cheese I’ve ever eaten,” according to Katie, my fellow intern at Compassion Over Killing. While I’d definitely consider some of Woodland’s more novelty items (veggie country fried steak made of fried yuba skins, anyone?) as occasional treats rather than everyday fare, the restaurant also features a wide array of veggie-heavy prepared salads, green juices, wheatgrass shots, and fruit smoothies that more closely parallel my daily eating habits. Needless to say, Woodland’s eclectic blend of vegan noms will astound even the most skeptical of parents who insist upon their adult child’s veganism as a “phase,” as well as health-conscious folk who scoff at the term “too much kale.”

Woodland’s warm and inviting dining room.

Though I’ve become a die-hard fan of Woodland’s thanks in part to its deeply satisfying fare, the primary reason I ardently support the eatery comes with its success in rendering nourishing, compassionate food accessible to a community most often barred from making such choices. Located in an area of DC populated largely by people of color and low-socioeconomic status, Woodland’s offers a welcome alternative to the fast food joints and liquor stores littering this almost-food desert, providing healthful vegan options at affordable prices. Seeing that about 2.3 million Americans live more than one mile away from a grocery store and do not own a car, that wealthy districts boast three times as many supermarkets as do poor ones, that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as do primarily black ones, and that the grocery stores in black communities usually lack an adequate selection of fresh produce, taking action against such atrocities to food access has become absolutely imperative, and Woodland’s has nobly done so. (Stop by the Food Empowerment Project’s website for more information on food justice issues.)

In food deserts, liquor stores often function as the only establishments at which residents can purchase food.

First introduced to Woodland’s by their booth at DC’s annual Capital Pride festival, I immediately fell head-over-heels in love with the restaurant’s sweet kale salad and sticky BBQ soy chick’n drumsticks. This preliminary sampling of Woodland’s cuisine ensured that I would venture to their brick-and-mortar establishment with my parents (now vegans of eight months) during the weekend they visited me in DC. Fast-forward a couple weeks, and my parents and I passed through the warmly hued, welcoming atmosphere of Woodland’s spacious dining room on our way to the eatery’s cafeteria-style food service area. Boasting a hot foods bar, a cold case of prepared salads, a sandwich-ordering station, a dessert display, a juice and smoothie bar, and a soft-serve ice cream machine, Woodland’s ready-to-order selection certainly does not skimp on variety or volume.

A glimpse of the hot foods bar.

A glimpse of the hot foods bar.

Beautifully colorful cold case of prepared salads.

Beautifully colorful cold case of prepared salads.

My father, the true southern boy he is,  positively swooned over the restaurant’s cornbread muffins and tender collard greens, while I struggled to refrain myself from breaking the glass of the cold case and stuffing my face into the dish of sweet kale salad. (You guys. I’m not kidding around. This kale salad=pure magic.) Meanwhile my mother, understandably overwhelmed by Woodland’s tantalizing array, heeded my recommendation of their famous baked mac & cheese.

My plate from bottom clockwise: sweet kale salad, chewy seaweed salad, curried tofu salad with bell peppers, brown rice.

My plate from bottom clockwise: sweet kale salad, chewy seaweed salad, curried tofu salad with bell peppers, brown rice.

My mother's plate from bottom clockwise: baked mac & cheese, smoky braised collard greens, spicy "live stir fry" with brassicas and carrots.

My mother’s plate from bottom clockwise: baked mac & cheese, smoky braised collard greens, spicy “live stir fry” with brassicas and carrots.

While undoubtedly scrumptious, the food at Woodland’s comes in hefty portions—one plate can easily provide two meals for a single person, thereby rendering Woodland’s fare even more cost-effective than do their already quite fair prices. So impressed with his meal of comforting favorites that harkened back to his childhood in Arkansas, my father eagerly purchased a pack of three homemade peanut butter cookies to maintain his energy during our full day of trekking around DC—please enjoy the comical picture of him and his beloved cookies below.

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I would encourage anyone in the DC area to sample the impressive fare at Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, and to support their endeavors to improve food access in their community. Woodland’s latest project, the Woodland’s Vegan Bistro To-Go food truck, launches TODAY! (Saturday, August 3) at the 2013 Mustock Festival in Lignum, VA, and plans from then on to serve the streets of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.

Woodland’s Vegan Bistro To-Go food truck.

Until next time, Ali.