vegan hump day #2: sugar makes me feel bad

A feature of the last two days has been me snatching pieces of “Lucky Chinese New Year Candy” (I don’t really know what it’s called, but my Chinese co-worker brings it in every year and it’s nutty and it’s sweet and it’s delicious) from the office communal “buffet” table. I have also been drinking quite a lot of coffee loaded with agave syrup (except, truth-be-told, I ran out of agave syrup last week and have been using office-supplied sugar this week) and almond milk (ran out of that, too, so, office-supplied cream…ahem). My Starbucks vanilla soy latte intake has been steadily increasing over the past couple of weeks (I even had a Venti yesterday), and yesterday I ate french fries for lunch. The fries induced me to grab a chocolate bar for afternoon snack (fries always do this to me: blame the fries!), and, when I got home last night, it wasn’t long before I found myself re-heating leftover pizza and washing it down with mint chocolate chip ice cream, when I wasn’t even hungryLet’s just say that I’m not feeling too light on my feet today. And that I’m beating myself senseless with negative self-talk. Sigh.

Let’s not mention* that I still haven’t “recovered” from the cookie festival that was the holidays and I’m a good number of pounds above my “safety” weight zone. (*Oops: I mentioned it.) Double-sigh.

Anyway, I think I hit bottom at around 8:33 last night, as I set down the empty ice cream dish for my cat Griffin to lick (should I not be admitting this?). Not only did I chastise myself for eating dairy (which, even today, has my insides notifying me of their presence every three minutes), but I took note of how quickly I’d jumped into my “jammy pants” (hello elastic waistband) when I got home from work yesterday, and did a mental review of how sluggish and restless (yes, it seems I can be both at the same time) and unmotivated and disorganized and sleepy and ADD-ridden I’ve been for the past two weeks. I’m experiencing the same irritable skin-crawly feeling I get late at night when my body tells me I’ve gone past my bedtime. Except I’m feeling this way all. the. time.

It’s bad. I feel bad. And I blame sugar. Because I crave it and then I eat it and then I crave it and then I eat it and then I need it.

I’m not going to go into a whole bunch of junk about sugar addiction. You can Wikipedia it: there’s an entry. And I know sugar is bad: just Google “sugar health risks”. I’m just going to acknowledge that I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in my physical and emotional behaviour since I’ve “upped” my sugar intake. I’m craving and eating much more food in general (not just sweets) than I do when I’m “off” sugar. I’m making bad choices and I’m not getting myself out of bed in the mornings, which means I’m not doing my morning gym routine. In fact, there hasn’t been a routine for a while.

So, even though sugar isn’t technically off-limits when it comes to veganism (but there’s a very good article here on why many vegans decide to reduce or eliminate sugar from their diets), it’s a definite roadblock for me, and I must significantly reduce intake. I believe kicking the sugar addiction will go a long way toward motivating me to face the other challenges of going vegan. I may even bump cheese from the top of my “Vegan Humps” list and replace it with sugar.

Poking around a bit on the Web, I found a detox (oh, how we love to throw that word around: just goes to show how addictive so many foods are nowadays) on the Dr. Oz website. (Hey, I like Dr. Oz!) Sounds simple and logical enough. As Dr. Oz states:

It takes 28 days to detox from most addictive substances, and sugar – hidden in fast food, low-fat options and condiments – is certainly an addictive substance. On this plan, you’ll detox, eliminate hidden sugars and learn how to incorporate alternative sweeteners.

So here it is in a step-by-step four-week “action plan”: Sugar Free in 28 Days. 1) Detox,  2) Eliminate Hidden Sugars, 3) Use Alternative Sweeteners, 4) Trick Your Taste buds. I’ll probably end up combining/moving some of the tips from week-to-week, but it’s a good guide to follow. Let’s go! Week one starting in t-minus… now.

rawlicious is, indeed, delicious

If you don’t count veggie trays and boxes of salad, yesterday was my first experience with raw cuisine, and I was not disappointed. Rawlicious in Bloor West Village wasn’t too crowded on an early Sunday afternoon, so I sat by the window mesmerized by a spinning class that was taking place in a studio across the street. I know I’ve got a long way to go before I feel as good as those spinners looked, but I was feeling pretty proud of my healthy lunchtime dining choice, even before I’d looked at the menu.

Pizza is right up there with burritos and sushi when it comes to my favorite “assembled” food dishes, so when I saw it on the menu, it was kind of a no-brainer. Though, admittedly, the idea of uncooked pizza left me more than a bit skeptical.

After ordering, I eyed my server as she walked behind the counter (there is no kitchen: I guess because nothing actually gets cooked), and caught a glimpse of her putting my pizza into some sort of box, where it stayed for a few minutes. I gather this box was a dehydrator, which is a necessity in raw food preparation to remove water from food, while keeping things at low temperatures and allowing natural enzymes to stick around. I’m not sure whether the “warm pizza” I ordered had been dehydrated earlier and was simply being warmed, but I have to say, when it arrived at the table, it looked like a cooked pizza. And, when I took my first bite, it tasted like a cooked pizza. In fact, I’d say it was one of the more flavourful slices of pizza I’ve ever eaten. Albeit a bit crumbly, the sprouted buckwheat crust was delicate and delicious, the dehydrated tomato sauce had an almost “meaty” flavour, and the toppings (zucchini, peppers and onions) were warm, but retaining a bit of crunch and natural sweetness. Oh…and there were crumbled nuts (cashews? pine nuts?), resembling parmesan cheese, which added a nice bit of texture and dimension. Quite a “party on my tongue” if I do say so (in a rather nauseating fashion).My one and only complaint? Two tiny slices! I know this food takes a lot more effort and “kind energy” to prepare, and I know that vegan raw food people go to spinning classes and don’t crave the vast amounts of nastiness that I do, but I really wouldn’t have minded eating the entire round of pizza, which wouldn’t have amounted to more than a modest-sized plateful, anyway. Ah well, perhaps the logic to be found is that there was room for dessert. So, my dining companion (who ate the—also delicious, yet small-portioned—”Rawitch” veggie sandwich with sprouts and guacamole on onion bread) and I decided to try the chocolate-dipped macaroon and the cinnamon something-or-other-rolled-in-coconut, both of which were sinful and delicious as all-get-out. We could have taken about six more of them (each) for the road, but, glancing over at the spinners once more, I decided it would be best to enjoy a fleeting moment of lightness and guilt-free indulgence.

saturday walkabout

Even January presents a few gems when it comes to winter days in the city and today was one of them: brilliant sunshine and crisp blue sky. It’s what I call “an L.A. day” (but my L.A.-born-and-raised boyfriend would beg to differ at a temperature of -16 celsius with the wind chill). Since we were awake before 10 a.m. today, a bundled-up L.A. John and I decided to take to the streets and catch some rays. I brought my camera and caught a few critters in action, as well. Always nice to remember you can find nature in the city, if you know where to look.With hand on heart, this little one made a fairly convincing plea to join us for a vanilla soy latte warm-up (yum!) at at the delightful Thor Espresso Bar, but alas…

And here’s a last little glimpse at festivity (colourful balls!) before seasonal affective disorder sets in. I kind of wish we could invent a new holiday to decorate for in late February/early March, when we find ourselves one salt-stained layer too far gone into the greyest, muckiest part of the season.

pocketing poketo

Any company whose vision is to create “art for your everyday” is okay with me. I adore Poketo for collaborating with artists to create products that make art affordable and accessible to the masses, while at the same time helping garner exposure for up-and-comers. The company is most famous for their limited-edition vinyl wallets, which have featured artwork from over 200 international artists. Not only are these wallets cruelty-free, but they allow a person to carry a little bit of beauty and a lot of creative inspiration everywhere they go.

In the late summer of 2010, Poketo teamed up with Target in the US to do a beautiful (and somewhat whimsical) line of accessories. I happened to be visiting Atlanta, GA at the time and I think I cleaned out a good portion of the city’s supply. One of my fave steals is a blue patterned umbrella designed by San Francisco artist, Lisa Congdon. (Except, I’m embarrassed to admit I love it so much, I’m afraid to use it in anything but a light mist.)

On my most recent visit to the Poketo website, I was pleased to note many of their products are eco-conscious and cruelty-free. In the collage of items I’ve put together at the top of this post, I’ve included (going counter-clockwise from top left): the greatly coveted (by me) Plumage Necklace, made with “responsibly farmed birch wood”; the Bird in Hand Eco Pullover, made from “organic cotton, recycled polyester and naturally occurring rayon”, the Three Dots iPad Case (polyurethane); the Astrid All-in-One Bag (faux leather); and, of course, one of their amazing wallets, this one by Jennifer Sanchez. If any person were to gift me with any one of these items (particularly that necklace), I would be their friend for life.

Yay Poketo!

vegan hump day #1: the challenges of cheese

[Welcome to what I hope will become a series of "hump day" posts in which I blog about the challenges ("humps") foreseen (and experienced) on my road to veganism.]

Cheese.

There’s just no getting around the marvel of cheese. Even the word representing this particular food item has resonant qualities which could send one into a magical hypnotic state, not unlike that which sent Homer Simpson into The Land of Chocolate. And I don’t suppose I have to mention the food coma that results from actually consuming it, particularly when paired with some fried bread or tubular elbows of pasta.

After consuming mass quantities over the Christmas holidays, there was a day about a week ago when I announced to my boyfriend (with my two cats as witnesses) that I was going vegan “tomorrow”. On the afternoon of “tomorrow”, my (saboteur) boyfriend decided to go out on an errand and return with a wheel of brie, some multi-grain crackers, and a pouty “aw shucks, I forgot” expression to rival a performance by Shirley Temple. Sigh. The kitty witnesses looked on (and did their share of sampling) as we worked our way, wedge-by-wedge, through the entire wheel of creamy, melty, delicately flavoured soft cheese. No words were said. The cats were especially speechless. Really, what defense does anyone have when face-to-face with a wheel of brie?

So I carried on for a few days. There may have been the odd cheeseless day over that week or so. But then there was The Pizza Pizza Golden Globes Debacle the other night…. Basically, my boyfriend and I got lazy. We were out all afternoon and didn’t want to miss a moment of fantastically compelling (ahem) red carpet fashions by messing about in the kitchen, and so, along came two medium (cheese-laden) Pizza Pizza pizzas with bonus cheesecakeI cannot elaborate.

And just last night, because it was windy, foggy and drizzly outside, a necessity for mac & cheese was born out of bluster. Everyone knows that hot, gooey cheese combined with the aforementioned tubular elbows of pasta is “comfort food”. Though nobody ever mentions the discomfort that happens about an hour later, when your insides seize up and begin speaking to you in whiny little squeaks of “why? why? why did you leave us in this sticky mess?” Or the discomfort that happens later that week when you’re sitting in your cubicle, clandestinely attempting to rig an elastic band on the top button of your jeans.

All of this to say: cheese is the primo obstacle to me becoming vegan. (Well, maybe let’s wait for the post on chocolate.) So: what to do, what to do?

My preliminary investigation has revealed there are a number of soy-based cheese alternatives on the market. I have tried a few of these and have to say I feel I’d get better results slicing up a block of wax. There just isn’t much flavour (at least, not a cheese flavour), they don’t melt well (or at all), and the texture leaves a lot to be desired. Also, I’ve noticed many soy cheeses contain casein (a milk protein) or caseinate (derived from casein), so they’re not vegan. Which begs the question, why would anybody bother with these cheeses at all?

And then I discovered Daiya vegan cheese. It’s dairy-free! It’s shredded! It melts! It’s invented by Canadians! And, more to the point, it tastes good, even melted in the microwave on a week-old piece of pita bread. Daiya comes in three flavours (cheddar, mozzarella & pepperjack), and I’ve been able to find it in my local Loblaws grocery store, here in Toronto. Check the Daiya website for more info: I just did, and discovered there are recipes! (Watch this space for trials.)

But what about Brie? I’m not sure I’m prepared to live the rest of my days devoid of Brie, and I currently don’t have the space on my 6′ x 6′ condo balcony to keep a happy cow devoted to cheese production. So, a quick web search has shown me that such a thing as Vegan Brie does indeed exist…in recipe format. Guess what I’ll be attempting in the coming days?

If these cheese alternatives prove satisfactory substitutes, I’ll be well on my way to Happy Vegan Kat. I will, however, be on a quest for the perfect vegan mac & cheese. And I’ll be attempting to shove any and all cheese replacements between two slices of bread to see how they grill. Oh…and those restaurants who stick cheese (and bacon) in everything including the salad? I’ll be scribbling out some picketing placards when I’m not testing the Vegan Brie.

I’ll pretty much do anything this man tells me to do


I just have to take a moment to showcase the latest BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) poster-boy, as my heart skips a beat every time he pops into my day.

When I was “of a certain age”, Morrissey and The Smiths played a large part in my awareness of animal welfare issues. He influenced my desire to go vegetarian (hello: “Meat is Murder”) and I’m pleased to know he continues the fight with this campaign to ban animal-tested cosmetics in Europe.

Let’s hope the rest of the world catches on when (not “if”) this ban takes effect. And, no matter where you are, sign the petition!

eco-armani = fashionable firth

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day in the US, so why not talk about the red carpet fashions we saw at last night’s Golden Globe Awards? I know it’s a tenuous thread, but MLK stood for peaceful protest and I do believe Colin Firth’s wife, Livia Giuggioli Firth deserves some credit for her peaceful Green Carpet Challenge (GCC). This is a (sort-of) protest against un-eco-friendly fashions in which Firth rallies the fashion giants (Armani, Chanel, Gucci, Valentino, to name a few) to create sustainable gowns for her arm-candy moments at hubby Colin’s red carpet events.

2012 marks the third year of Firth’s GCC and she kicked it off at the Golden Globes wearing an Armani gown made from recycled plastic bottles from Northern Italy, certainly proving that glamour doesn’t have to involve plucking peacock feathers. (Evan Rachel Wood, on the other hand….)

You can read more about the Green Carpet Challenge at Firth’s Eco-Age website/shop/online magazine, here. And you can read her own thoughts about the Armani dress she wore last night on the British Vogue site, here.

beagle freedom project

At the top of my 2011 Heartwarming Moments list was a video from the Beagle Freedom Project, which is an LA-based organization dedicated to the rescue of beagles used for research lab animal experimentation. Prior to rescue, the dogs in the video had lived their entire lives in metal cages, housed in austere research facilities. They had never known nature or human kindness/companionship. The video shows them being released from their cages on a sunny day, stepping onto grass for the first time and snuggling up to rescue volunteers. It’s gladdening as all-get-out and I dare you not to tear up!

Beagles are docile by nature, which is, sadly, what makes them ideal candidates for lab research. Unfortunately, when research companies no longer need these animals, they are often destroyed. Though I want animal testing to be outlawed, it’s fantastic to know there is an organization devoted to giving these “discarded” animals loving forever homes.

I’m not at a point in my life where I can adopt one of these beagles (I have two adopted cats, in a small downtown condominium), but I aim to do my part by pledging to purchase cruelty-free products. Searching for these products does take a bit more effort, but is worth it when you consider you are saving the lives of gentle creatures who honour us with their trust.

why am i here?

On my drive home from work about a month ago, the song, “Cruel to be Kind” came on the radio and I didn’t attack the tuner. Instead, I listened to the lyrics for the first time and eyed myself disapprovingly in the rear-view mirror. I had caught myself singing—no, belting: “bayeeee-baaay, ya gotta be croool, ya gotta be croool to be kind.”

I sounded, to myself, like a tone-deaf hypocrite. Particularly (the hypocrite part) because earlier that day I had been talking with a friend about my reasons for going vegetarian and my more recent aspirations to live a lifestyle closer to that of veganism. So, why was I driving down the Don Valley Parkway, belting out what is, to my mind, one of the more ridiculous phrases humankind has come up with? [And thanks a lot, Hamlet.] At its most obvious, “cruel to be kind” seems a metaphor for all that is wrong with the world. Or, better yet, an excuse. And, when I look at it from my own “veggie” perspective, it’s downright absurd. “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind” seems exactly what the animal food production industry is trying to sell us: that we should consume animal meat because it is good for us, when the reality is, billions of food-producing animals are subjected to cruelty each year; animal food production results in devastation to our environment; and medical studies continue to point to the fact that meat actually isn’t good for us.

Now, I’m pretty confident that a late 70s Nick Lowe wasn’t thinking about factory farming or environmental sustainability so much as getting into the head (read: pants) of his girlfriend. And I certainly don’t want to come across as judgmental or “preachy vegetarian”. Let’s just say the song pulled me out of my commuting trance and made me think about something that matters to me. So, I ended up singing the remainder of the song, replacing the word “cruel” with “kind”, and belting it all out a little bit louder than I should ever belt out anything, even in a car. Because it is a bloody infectious song….

And it made me want to start this blog.

So here I am, smack into “January blahs”. I’ve already lost most of my New Year’s resolve, yet I’m feeling uncharacteristically optimistic and a tiny bit excited about the challenges associated with turning “cruel to be kind” on its head. Or, at least, I’m keen to start blogging about stuff that matters to me. Check my about me page to get better acquainted with my intentions. Essentially, I endeavour to blog about living cruelty-free and extending kindness, across the board. In a non-“preachy vegetarian” manner. From healthy recipes to cruelty-free product reviews to my own airy blather on anything and everything, please join me! And, if I do get a little preachy, keep me in check by adding your (kind…and thoughtful) comments.

And there you have it. Welcome to KIND to be kind.