Thursday, April 19, 2012

Isa Chandra Moskowitz: Heroine of the Vegan Movement

There's a good chance you haven't heard of Isa Chandra Moskowitz. For years, she hosted one of the pioneering vegan cooking shows, Post-Punk Kitchen, a public access TV program based out of Brooklyn, New York. Now 39, Moskowitz left Brooklyn for Portland, Oregon, in 2008, and eventually settled in Omaha, Nebraska.

Vegans love Moskowitz for her cookbooks, especially her wonderful dessert recipes. Her two most famous books are Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes That Rule (Da Capo Press: 2006) and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar: 100 Dairy-Free Recipes for Everyone's Favorite Treats (Da Capo Press: 2010). I've tried bakery goods based on her recipes and they are to die for!

There are different ways to win people over to veganism. You can post horrific films of animals being abused and violently murdered on Facebook or on a Blog. You can distribute vegan fliers. You can use the power of persuasion by talking to your friends about the many compelling reasons to go vegan.

All of those are useful and necessary tactics. But one of the most admirable methods of winning hearts and minds is simply to show people that vegan food is delicious, and that it is possible to live rich, fulfilling, happy lives as vegan. We don't just eat grass and twigs and berries. We eat wonderful breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and - when we're done - we enjoy dessert, too. And vegan desserts don't just consist of Oreos and apples.

Nobody has done more to promote the cause of delicious vegan desserts (and vegan cooking in general) than Moskowitz. And her reasons for doing so are totally right on. "I think that activism isn't what you decide to do but how it affects people," she said. "So if someone says, I'm going to become an activist! I'm going to stand on a street corner and preach about veganism! And they go ahead and do that but no listens and no one becomes vegan, then is that activism? On the other hand, maybe there's a girl in the middle of nowhere who loves animals and decided to bake vegan. And then people taste her cupcakes and are like, 'What the hell, I'll go vegan, too.' Obviously I think the latter is more effective, but I guess people might not see it as activism."

It is activism. It's the best kind of activism. It's delicious activism!

Check out this wonderful video (above) of Moskowitz for Our Hen House, conducted by the equally wonderful and inspiring vegan activist Jasmin Singer, one of my heroines. Go Isa! Go Jasmin! Go Vegan!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nutritional Yeast: Best-Kept Secret of the Vegan World

I have to admit: When I first went vegan in 2009 and partner told me about nutritional yeast, I shuddered with horror. Nutritional yeast? Really? With a name like that, it has to be lousy.

As a recent article on the Huffington Post pointed out: "Just the name of this ingredient will most likely cause you to instantaneously dismiss it. Nutritional yeast doesn't sound like something you want to willingly eat; and it doesn't sound like it could possibly contribute to a tasty meal."

That's putting it politely. In fact, it sounds downright lousy.

But here's the punchline: As the article in Huff-Post aptly described it, nutritional yeast tastes "nutty, cheesy and delightfully creamy."

They're right. It's good. Damn good.

Great, in fact!

Still, like the grouchy, hat-wearing character in Green Eggs & Ham, I stubbornly resisted nutritional yeast for the longest time. I did not like it in a house. I did not like it with a mouse.

Then I tried it on pasta. And I was a goner. It tasted just like parmesan! Somehow, these magical flakes created that wonderful creamy taste described in Huffington Post.

And if there's one thing that we vegans often desperately miss, it's creamy foods. At least I do. I can honestly say that I've never felt deprived as a result of the disappearance of meat from my diet. It's flesh and I'll never eat flesh again. Good riddance! But creamy foods? Oh man, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Alas, it's hard to find decent dairy substitutes for vegans. Soy milk? Blech. Rice milk? No thanks. Almond milk? OK in small doses. Non-dairy cheese? Sketchy. Real sketchy. Tofurky-brand vegan pizza? Tasty, but on the "Creamy Scale," it only rates a 2.5 on a scale from 0 to 10.

My partner once made me a vegan coconut cream pie because, like Gilligan, coconut cream pie was my favorite dessert. It was about the most well-meaning experiment I've ever seen. And it tasted good, too. But I still missed the real deal.

By the time my companion urged me to sprinkle nutritional yeast on top of a wonderful pasta dish she made, I was seriously cream-deprived. I resisted at first. But, like Mikey on the Life cereal advertisements from the 1970s, I gave it a shot. And I ended up having about the same reaction as Mikey. I started eating it and I just couldn't stop.

I'm glad I finally gave nutritional yeast a try, after months and months of resisting it. It was a sign of deep love and dedication that my companion never stopped lobbying me to try it.

Now, like the grouchy hat-wearer in Green Eggs and Ham and Mikey on the Life cereal commercials, I'm hooked. Now it goes on soups, salads, sandwiches, Asian food - you name it.

The moral of the story is don't let a name scare you off.

That said, Food Network's website has published a wonderful list of 40 Unfortunate Food and Beverage Names that is funny as hell. Have a look if you get a chance. Between Australia's VegePoo-brand vegemite and Ghana's Pee Cola, I have to say, Nutritional Yeast comes off sounding downright delicious!