A panel of animal product-free Bay Area-ites tell it like it is
Vegan cred: Founding blogger of vegansaurus.com
Loves her job because: "The vast majority of my commenter are so rad. They're smart, awesome activists, not preachy dicks, which is what a lot of people think vegans are."
When's she's not blogging: Beck's favorite Bay Area vegan eats include Encuentro, Golden Era, the flan at Gracias Madre, schwarmas from Herbivore, Saha, Jay's Cheesesteaks, and Souley Vegan.
Note: Beck was sick for our summit but I hollered at her afterward so she could still join the conversation.
Elbow-deep as we were in the toothsome culinary contributions my summit attendees had whipped up for the occasion, it was perhaps no surprise to learn that food cravings were the least of the challenges to their vegan lifestyles. Indeed, to a (wo)man, our panel participants — many of whom had been vegans for the better part of a decade — found their eats superior to more omnivorous spreads.
"There are only five or six animals that people eat for meat," said Loewen, who works at a senior citizen center by day and spends her free time organizing events like the Vegetarian Society's annual Meat Out. "But we've got so many options in terms of grains and vegetables."
One of the upsides to being vegan — in addition to the animal treatment and health and well-being issues that panelists cited as their salient motivations to make their lifestyle switch — is that it compels a certain amount of creativity in the kitchen. When you're operating largely outside the parameters of what your family considers a standard meal, you tend to think outside the prepackaged box.
Dyson runs my favorite reason to cross the Bay Bridge — Souley Vegan's crispy tofu burger and mac 'n' cheese have magical properties. She came to veganism when she had a visceral reaction as a teenager to a chicken bone, and now can't imagine life any other way. She started her cooking career at a farmers market booth and now brings Souley Vegan's cuisine to African American expos and public schools, where it teaches people about life, post-pork flavoring.
We talked about living vegan in the Bay Area, where my panelists agreed the vegan community had yet to come together the way in has in places like Austin. They pinned this lack of cohesion on the dearth of a central cultural hub, and Beck affirmed that a need for just such a meeting space was one of her motivations behind Vegansaurus.
Evans bemoaned the "ideological chasm" that separates omnivores and vegans and makes it difficult to share information and understanding between the two. The group debated over whether the "vegan movement" could truly be said to exist — and yeah, we talked shit too.
"I think it's bullshit!" Loewen opined suddenly when I asked the group how they felt about Michael Pollan's assertion that eating sustainably is more important than eating animal-product-free. "[That view] takes out the ethical aspect. That animal is going to die — free range animals want to live even more than other animals."
Benedetto and Vazquez attended the California Culinary Academy (where they met and Vazquez became vegan) and were the summit's official "vegans on the front lines" because of it. The school, they said, accommodated their desire not to work with meat — to a point. They still had to cook a steak for a final exam and take a two-week butchery course. "It smelled like death," grimaced Benedetto. "Postgrad, I decided I would rather work retail than have to cook meat."
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