Tuesday, November 5, 2013

10 Vegan Things I Am Thankful For

In the spirit of the holiday, I have decided to write a little bit about some of my favorite vegan products, brands, and items and why I am thankful for them. This list will include items that you can get across the country. These items are in no particular order! I love them all just about as equally as the others.

1. V-Dog
I am so thankful to have such a wonderful dog in Rusty. Chris and I were given Rusty by her sister. I was apprehensive about getting a dog at first, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about how lucky I am to have him in my life. Since we started taking care of him in 2010, we've tried many different foods. I worked at Petsmart for three years and ended up becoming pretty particular about his food. I had heard every sales pitch in the book while in their employ. We tried foods that were marketed for specific sales points like being grain-free, being made in the USA, and even being formulated for small dogs. Having worked in the pet industry I was also more aware of all of the horrible things that happen related to feeding dogs factory made food. For instance, there were a number of instances when a number of brands would be recalled at the same time. Why? Because nearly all brands of food are made at the same factory. Also, few brands specify whether or not their foods contain GMOs or where exactly their "vegetable cellulose" comes from (in most cases, it's peanut shells). And let's not forget that conspicuous ingredient "animal digest". From which animals do these ingredients come from? We aren't allowed to know. And I'm just not comfortable feeding my dog something made out of another animal that may have been diseased, full of antibiotics or chemicals, or even of his own species. Carrying on, though, it seemed like no matter what we did, Rusty would become bored with his food within 1-2 months of us buying a new type. We tried mixing in wet food, adding gooey vitamin stuff they sold at the store, and even adding fresh fruits and veggies. Ultimately, it seemed like the thing he liked most about dinnertime was when he found bits of tomatoes or zucchini in there with his crunchies. When Chris and I talked to a representative at the V-Dog booth at the Texas VegFest, we were still apprehensive about switching him to a vegan food. We were given a sample while we were there and he ate it right up. I ordered a small bag to try out and the rest is history. That was over six months ago and he looks forward to dinner every night even if he doesn't get tomatoes (or pumpkin or cucumbers, lol) mixed in with his food. I know that he's getting the nutritional requirements he needs and I don't feel like I have to worry about product recalls, either, as V-Dog is both sourced and made in the USA.

2. Tofurky
While I try to make most of what Chris and I eat right from scratch, it can often be easiest and most convenient to turn to Tofurky for dinner. Their products are delicious, filling, and affordable. To me, they're a great balance between quality and price. They use organic tofu and non-GMO soy in their products. They are also one of the only vegan companies I've encountered that is attempting to use genuinely sustainable palm oil in their products. Many companies that make vegan products don't take the unsustainability of palm oil into consideration. Tofurky and Daiya are two companies that are. In addition to this, Tofurky recently opened a new factory that is LEED platinum certified, and is one of only two food manufacturers in the US to receive this certification. This makes me really happy as a consumer. It's like, they're helping me be a better vegan by reducing the amount of pollution that I create by sourcing renewable energy in order to make my dinner. It's great! And let's not forget that they're the originators of the meat-free vegan roast and have been saving Thanksgiving for vegans since the 1980s!

3. Nutritional Yeast
Even though I've been making vegan dishes since 1998, I hadn't actively consumed nutritional yeast regularly before 2011. Before Chris went vegan, my diet was pretty unexciting. Since the both of us went veg, I've been able to experiment more with our meals. Tofu scramble and cheesy pasta dishes are some of our favorites! We would be pretty sad pandas without nutritional yeast. If you're unfamiliar with it, nutritional yeast is like a vitamin supplement that is somewhat cheesy in flavor. It's full of B vitamins and has a myriad of uses. You can use it on tofu to imitate cheesy eggs either as scrambled tofu or in a quiche or frittata, to add richness and flavor to mashed potatoes, for creating creamy sauces for pasta dishes, and even to make nacho cheese for use when dipping vegetables or chips. I usually buy mine from the bulk bin at the grocery store, but if you have trouble locating it in your area, this brand is highly recommended on Amazon.

4. Kale
I know it seems weird to put a vegetable on a "things I'm thankful for" list, but it really is true. Before kale, I found greens to be incredibly boring. Before kale, I would sometimes eat spinach, but mainly only had "greens" in the form of broccoli. I now find myself eating it regularly, once, twice, or even three times per week. It's great lightly steamed with a bit of salt, pepper, and vinegar added. It's also superb in place of meat (a la my Smoky Kale Tacos). I keep trying to find ways to add it to our diets. It's high in things like Vitamin A, beta carotene, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C. In other words, it's good and good for you and that's why I love it SO much.

5. The Non-Dairy Formulary
My dad has a tendency to get me Amazon gift cards for my birthday and Christmas. I stocked up on some essential food blogging supplies with my latest birthday card and had some money left over afterward. I decided to take a chance on this book after seeing a post about it on a Facebook page. I am so glad I did! It contains recipes that are relatively easy for making non-dairy cheeses. Anyone can start making vegan cheese at home with this book. It also contains recipes for other traditionally dairy heavy dishes like cheesecake, key lime pie, and butter. One of the things I appreciate about the book is that the author is very particular about the types of ingredients that are needed. For instance, he specifies that refined coconut oil is necessary in some of the tofu based cheese recipes, otherwise there may be a difference in texture and flavor. While reading it, I feel like he wants to make sure you only have successes with his recipes. Recipes for aged cheeses are included, too. I have yet to create anything that requires ingredients you can't get at the store, but I'm hoping to delve deeper into the book after Christmas (I put the ingredients on my wishlist!).

6. Refined Coconut Oil
Speaking of which, ever since I purchased the Non-Dairy Formulary I have been experimenting with using refined coconut oil in different ways. I have been using it to replace vegan butter in baking and am ever so pleased with the results. It's a little bit higher in fat than Earth Balance sticks (which is what I used before). It is much higher in saturated fat, though the acids in it are supposed to help balance cholesterol levels as opposed to make them worse. But when compared to vegan butter I just love it so much more. When developing my Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe for Vegan Holiday Treats, I made versions with both vegan butter and coconut oil and much preferred the coconut ones. I felt like the flavor and texture were both improved. I don't think we'll be able to get a real "yes" or "no" on whether or not it's bad for you for some time. So, in moderation, it's something I'm loving right now.

7. Johnson's Backyard Garden
Although they aren't a specifically vegan company, I do love me some JBC. Their booths can be found at farmer's markets across the state of Texas, brimming with fresh seasonal organic produce that tastes and looks better than the stuff you find in stores. In fact, it was only at their stands that we could find broccoli rabe, a leafy green that Chris's mom goes crazy for. We picked some up on Saturday to have as a Thanksgiving side dish. Their prices are also really good for what you're buying and they have a reasonably priced CSA program with delivery available that runs year round. They're also staffed by some real nice folks! Back when we lived more central, we stopped at the Burnet Road Farmer's Market and they offered us some free squash for our dog to enjoy. They were tiny, less attractive squashes. And he loved them. :-) Can't beat service like that. ...but HEY! You said this list included things you can find nationwide! No cheating! Okay, so let's refer to the CSA program, shall we? You can find your own CSA program by visiting the Local Harvest website and start getting locally grown organic produce soon. There are literally thousands of farms listed. And just as many reasons for you to enroll!

8. Oppenheimer White Chocolate Chips
I bought a three pack of these delicious babies on Amazon (yet another gift card from dad) and I have only just used up the last of my final bag. I haven't had a lot of vegan white chocolate. In fact, I can't remember the name of the brand I used to buy before moving to Texas. I cannot find them in the store anymore, which is where I used to get them. I can't find these chips in stores, either, but that's beside the point! I haven't had "real" white chocolate in years, but from what I recall these chips are very similar. The cocoa butter flavor is nice and smooth. I made oatmeal white chocolate chip cookies with them last weekend. It took a lot of restraint to ensure that the dollops of dough actually wound up in the oven. Yum!

9. Herbivore Clothing
I hate clothes shopping for so many reasons. It's always challenging to find garments that fit or that match my style and attitude. I also rarely find anything casual that is emblazoned with causes I feel passionate about. But never fear; Herbivore Clothing is here! I've written about them before as they are truly one of my favorite companies. Whether you're looking for vegan snark or something subtle, they have the style you're looking for. In addition to apparel, they also sell environmentally friendly things like personal hand towels and travel-friendly utensils.

10. Yerba Mate
And finally, another personal story for you. In addition to having scoliosis and a spinal fusion to fix it, I was also blessed (lolz) with a heart condition that causes me to have heart palpitations when I consume too much caffeine. I recently came to a point in my life that I could no longer have a cup of coffee every morning without having significant heart palpitations throughout the day. I knew I had to do something, but I also knew that my early-rise job wouldn't enable me to be 100% caffeine free. At the recommendation of a friend, I tried switching to yerba mate. It contains significantly less caffeine and its alkaloids and vitamins provide you with sustained energy as opposed to an instant rush (like the kind you get with coffee). My heart palpitations are so insignificant now that I daresay I don't have them at all. It also tastes wonderful and provides me with plenty of energy in the morning. Lately, I've been adding peppermint syrup to it! I am also taking my love of yerba mate to a new level by switching to loose leaf tea as opposed to tea bags. I have purchased some bulk mate and a handy dandy infuser and am looking forward to decreasing the amount of pollution I create in doing so. Yes, I am always trying to find ways to decrease my carbon footprint. :-)

And there you have it. Looking back on 2013, these are the 10 Vegan Things I Am Thankful For. This list is kind of like my recap of favorite things for the year. How do yours compare? I would love to hear about all of the vegan things you're thankful for, so please leave me a comment!

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