I met Melissa through Donut Cooperative. She's one creative lady! She mad a crap ton of wonderful knit things for Knits for Neuters, Crochet for Spays and she's an activist of the brilliant kind. She also designed one of the vegan signature donuts for Donut Cooperative (Chai) and it was fucking delicious. I also delivered donuts to her when we were first starting out and I was testing for the perfect vegan donut recipe. I initially met her then.
I'm honored to have her as an interviewee, and just as expected she delivered! In terms of her survey answers, that is. This is why I love my blog:
1. How many years have you been vegan?
Going on seven years now, I believe. I was vegetarian for quite some time before I went vegan so it all blurs together a bit.
2. What made you choose veganism and why?
I originally went veg in college. I was taking intro to Philosophy the first semester of my freshman year ('98). We really really quickly covered Peter Singer's basic utilitarian argument in one class. I'm talking bare bones version here - animals suffer, we don't need meat to live, we're causing suffering for an unnecessary reason and that's Really Not Cool. That was enough to get me to go veg for three years. Just that blurb. I went "he's right, I can't argue that at all" and I stopped eating meat. I also quit drinking milk - for some reason I justified cheese and ice cream but drank soy to help with the veal connection. Ah, I was young and silly. I remember making mac n' cheese in the dorm with soymilk. *facepalm* Anyway, I backslid my final year of college and started eating poultry and fish again. That lasted about 8-10 months or so until I read Singer's whole book "Animal Liberation". I needed to really go deeper and recognize why it was that I stopped eating animals in the first place. It worked, I went back to strict vegetarian. The next books I read was John Robbin's "Diet for a New America" and "Food Revolution". I went vegan. I've been vegan ever since. I needed to have a firmer, more passionate ethics system in place to stay committed. That one day of Singer philosophy in college got me to start and gave me three years of steam... which isn't too shabby considering it was 45 minutes of class to make that sort of change. Reading the full book, reading as many AR books as I could get my hands on, watching Peaceable Kingdom... these things just gave me more visual and mental images of the sort of suffering animal products entail to fall back on. Cheese isn't tempting when you look at it and see the horrorshow of the dairy industry. Meat is not appealing when you look at it and see a dead and tortured body, not food. In the end, the reason I'm vegan is for the animals. All the billions of them who die every year because people like how their bodies taste. As soon as I related to all those animals, animals I would never meet or know personally but for whom life is precious, I wasn't able to see them as anything other than individuals. They weren't somethings they were someONE. Someone who suffered and died for a completely unnecessary reason. Someone who is afraid and hurting, who cries for their mother or their child, who never gets to feel the breeze or feel the sun ... someone who never knows humans can be kind, who only knows humans who hurt them, yell at them, kill them. Seeing them as we see the animals who share our lives and live as our family members - as worthy of protection and kindness. That small distinction between seeing a thing and seeing a being makes a huge difference in how one relates to our fellow animals.
3. What keeps you vegan every day?
Well, I hate to say it but it's not even a struggle to me anymore. Animal products just aren't food. They aren't even on my radar at all as something to be tempted by. It's relatively easy to be vegan when those non-vegan items aren't a temptation or desirable in any way. Sure, I'll sometimes go "man, I miss X" but when I'm thinking about X, I'm not wishing I wasn't vegan so I could justify eating it, I'm wishing someone made a vegan version! :) Really, going back to why I'm vegan up above, it's the animals again. I'm vegan for them. With the focus on the animals, it's impossible to justify not being vegan. Any of the other benefits of veganism - better health, longevity, environmental stuff, human rights stuff - it's all second string to the animals. They deserve to be free of suffering and there is no way to use them as commodities without causing suffering. None. Humane farming does not exist. Whenever animals are seen as things their needs are secondary (or worse) and they are exploited. Period. The only way to avoid supporting animal suffering in agriculture is to opt out of the whole process entirely. "Happy meat" and cage-free eggs as a humane option are a bald-faced lie. Those animals suffer, too. And even if they didn't they are being used as a means to an end rather than being respected as an end in themselves. They aren't valued as individuals - only as products. Not cool.
4. What's your favorite vegan item from the grocery store and why?
Oh sheesh, Sarah! You're killing me with this one. Just one? Okay, well I'm leaving out whole foods (like produce and such) since I assume you want a pre-made product. I like so many things that are just naturally vegan. Plants are pretty freaking awesome. Like dates - they are magical. Coconuts, too. Mmm. I guess the packaged vegan thing I buy all the time and always have on hand is Almond Breeze vanilla unsweetened almond milk. I use it constantly - in my melted banana morning oatmeal, in agar puddings or frozen banana "ice cream", in chai puddings and overnight oats. Yum. It is always in my fridge and I would be totally lost without it. I make so many things that call for it. Plus, I'm a calorie counter and 40 calories in a cup = lots of nutrition for a small calorie cost. Love it. I also really love Daiya and We Can't Say It's Cheese cheddar spread and Leahey's Garden mac n' cheese. Oh! Artisana Coconut Butter is like some sort of divine mana from paradise. Seriously, if you like coconut - get it. Pricey but worth every cent, it's raw, creamy, naturally sweet and great on cinnamon raisin toast, in oatmeal, as "frosting" on cakes or just out the jar with a spoon. NOM. Since I can't seem to stop, I also really love Sweet and Sara's coconut marshmallows, So Delicious ice creams and Gardein vegan proteins.
5. If you wanted to eat good vegan food, where in the world would you want to be and what would you get?
I know it's SUCH a cliche but I'd be back in Portland, OR. Everywhere I ate there was just fantastic. Blossoming Lotus (walnut crusted tempeh! raw cheesecake!), Bye and Bye (really amazing bar food - best meatball sub ever), SweetPea Bakery (amazing Sunday brunch - biscuits and gravy to die for.), Back to Eden Bakery (too many good things to list) and Cartopia (vegan crepes with dark chocolate and pear... seriously delicious) were just some of the ones I immediately recall. I'd probably try to eat as much as possible and then want to lie on my hotel bed and moan for a bit. Oh wait, I already did that. ;)
6. If you were in Minneapolis and you wanted to go out for vegan food, where would you go and what would you get?
Another tough one since it varies on my mood. The places we go regularly include Ecopolitan (rawvioli and tostadas are my favorites), Evergreen (I always get the vegan Moo Goo Gai Pan) and French Meadow (tempeh cutlet, perfection on a plate). I also was recently introduced to Triple Rock and really like their french toast, pancakes and sandwiches. Also, since I'm living in St.Paul, I need to give our grub some loving! Here in STP we really like Fasika (best Ethiopian ever - I like the split peas, greens and stew and the injera is so amazing), Tampopo Noodle shop (kitsuna soba is my jam), Pizza Luce (Rustler, baby, with rinotta) and Bravo (vegan fish with mushrooms and brown rice.)
7. What's your favorite vegan meal consist of in full detail and where can we find this meal?
Oh sheesh. Okay, I'm going with the tempeh cutlet at French Meadow. But, it's under protest(!) since I am loathe to pick just one.I don't know how French Meadow does it but they have managed to make a perfect meal. Dense flavorful tempeh is rolled is some sort of tasty light breading and then pan fried until perfectly crunchy. They serve this marvelous chunk of heaven with the most delicious lightly steamed chard and spicy, creamy coconut red beans with savory dirty rice. And then they cover it with a tangy, sweet and sour blood orange viniagrette. It is all these different flavors and textures brought together in this absolutely perfect balance. You read the menu description and it's like "eh, that could be weird" but it's NOT. It's amazing. Kitchen magic at its finest.
8. What's your favorite place ever to get vegan desserts?
Hoo boy. It's billion way a tie. The Green Owl in Madison, Wisconsin makes a coconut cream pie that I would gladly accept as my last meal. It is perfection - we will swing into Madison whenever we drive past just to see if they have it that day. I'm not even kidding. We also had the most amazing cookie ever at the Cheese Factory in Wisconsin Dells. Yes, a vegan/vegetarian restaurant exists in the Dells! They make a maple walnut cookie that is the ruling champion for best cookie ever eaten. I would be remiss to not mention the Chicago Diner in Chicago and their epic shakes. Chicago Soydairy ice cream concoctions, they are so good it's probably illegal. I like the cookie dough and peanut butter combo. Here in the cities, Ecopolitan is my dessert champ. Their raw coconut cream pie is just as good as the Green Owl's non-raw version, just different. Also, their berry parfaits are epic. Now I'm hungry. This is a pretty cruel survey. '
9. Do you think that you'll stay vegan for the rest of your life?
Without question, yes. Barring a zombie apocalypse. All bets are off then.
10. What would you do if you were given a pool full of cooked spaghetti? Be descriptive.
I would get a dump truck and take it to the chickens at Chicken Run! They LOVE spaghetti. :D I'd make some lovely sauce, grab all my friends and have a pasta party with the chickens (as guests of honor, not the entree!).
A million thanks, Melissa! I always learn something wonderful from you. I now know that chickens eat spaghetti (really?!), my surveys make people incredibly hungry and that I really should've tried the brunch at Sweetpea Bakery in Portland when I was there. I'm a sucker for good biscuits and gravy.