I sit at the table deciding whether to use Earth Balance or butter on my vegan waffle.

You see, I’m lactose intolerant. I’m also soy intolerant. However, soy-free EB doesn’t contain soy, and butter doesn’t contain lactose. We compare the nutritional value of the two containers:

Earth Balance Butter
Serving size 14 oz. 14 oz.
Fat 11g 11g
Sodium 110mg 110mg
Vitamin E 10% 0%
Vitamin A 0% 10%

The difference is vitamin A or vitamin E. The butter contains cream, whirled and processed until only the milkfats are left. EB contains: Palm oil, canola oil, safflower, flax, and olive oil. Water, salt, natural flavor, pea protein, sunflower lecithin, lactic acid, and annatto for color. The butter comes from Pennsylvania. The palm oil in EB comes from Brazil and Malaysia.

Palm oil is actually this whole issue. Much (85%) of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also from Brazil, Columbia, New Guinea, Ghana, Borneo, and Sumatra. Plantations are sites of burned rainforests, destroyed for palm oil agriculture. Animals that are threatened, endangered, and critically endangered due to this profess include: Asian elephants, tigers, Sumatran rhinoceros and Sumatran orangutans. (The Orangutan Project)

But! EB doesn’t get their palm oil from those sources, so it’s all cool, right?

The question between Pennsylvania Butter and Global Earth Balance rapidly becomes more complicated once it moves beyond the fauna v. flora debate of sourcing. If we look at our scope beyond the daily life and relative suffering of a Pennsylvania cow and a Malaysian tree, the tree definitely has the better deal. We start looking at environmental effects–grass and orangutans, dairy farm workers and field hands, pollutants, CO2 production rates, the ability for me to pick which is better (or, let’s be honest, less bad) gets overwhelmed by internal debates of environmentalism, globalization, and moral economics. Nutrition (which should be my highest priority because taking care of myself ought to be my base metric for what I do (even though it’s not) is not an issue since the two substances are, basically, nutritionally identical.

I stop looking at the stick of butter and tub of earth balance and do the most reasonable, rational thing I can think of: douse my pancakes in Michigan maple syrup.


Airline food has always been this strange thing for me.

As a kid, at one point my mom was trying to be healthier or something and ordered a vegetarian meal on a plane. This was at breakfast. It amazed me, this bowl of fruit she was given. It just looked so tasty. Since she was my mom, she shared, of course.

Since I’ve been doing this “requesting food on international flights” thing, I’ve seen a range in terms of how it works to have special dietary preferences or requirements. When I flew back from Korea, they made a mistake and didn’t actually set things up for my “special meal request,” as they like to call it. Instead, they offered me a side dish of kimchi, since that was all they had that was vegetarian.

It was a hungry flight.

On my trip to and from Wales, there was some wackiness in planning (as in there wasn’t any. However, on this flight (run by American Airlines) they said that their standard meal options were vegetarian and non-vegetarian. A special request, in this case, was not necessary or even possible. On my flight back, they ran out of vegetarian meals before they got to me, and instead compensated with extra generous portions of their salad, rolls, and crackers.

My most recent adventure, a trip to England, had a very real, simple, and strange experience in classism on the way out. The oven broke and we had no food while first class still had hot food. Part of the strangeness of this came from the stewardesses being snippy about it and American Airlines not offering us any compensation, which seems to be something airlines do when they inconvenience people.  For this flight, I had gone out of the way to triple check the vegan status of my ticket. I even called. I assume my meal was vegan or something, or would have been had I seen it. The margarine that came with it, however, contained whey. This was weird, because they went out of their way to offer a vegan meal request without it actually being so. As I realized this, I had these horrific images flash through my head of vegetarians with whey allergies going into anaphylactic shock on planes.

However, my meal was obviously supposed to be different from the standard. Other people got cookies, I got fruit. However, it’s worth noting that the bread and crackers they gave me were the same as they gave everyone else. For their “snack” they told me there were no special options—it was exactly the same as those next to me—but they kept the yogurt out of mine when I requested it.

On my flight back (still American—and I’m on it RIGHT NOW), I was hooked up with a special meal request. As opposed to the American flight out, the oven was working. This time, the guy sitting next to me also requested a vegetarian meal (not vegan). We got the same food. It also happened to be gluten free, low-sodium, wheat-free, and a few other things. In short: healthy. Everything special was in one go. It also wasn’t vegan! There were eggs and milk in the snack and whey in the margarine. But there was a rice cake. Man, I love rice cakes. Seriously craving some with nutritional yeast on them now.




This post is alternatively titled “Why There Will Be a Turkey At Thanksgiving.”

This is my first adult Thanksgiving. I spent a Thanksgiving without my family, and the day passed in a breathless whisper. It was barely there. This year won’t be like that. This will be Thanksgiving, with a capital T, and my family won’t be there to plan it. I won’t be a willing participant in what happens around me. I will plan.

Co-planning it, really, with R and two friends of his. R is supplying the tables, the chairs, the dining room, and some of the kitchen space–others have offered their kitchens. Two of his friends, and maybe a third, were delighted to get in on cooking.

It’s not -my- Thanksgiving, in that it’s at my house. I will likely be cooking a minority of the food. Still, I feel like this is my first Thanksgiving.

We’re going to have a turkey.

A photo of a turkey in an oven.

Photo courtesy of Edsel_L on Flickr. CC-BY-SA

And not just a hand turkey cut out of construction paper, though there will be those too.

I’ve been a vegetarian for more of my life than I have not been one (I’m twenty-four, for those of you keeping track)–and this includes the (combined) year I took off while I lived in Asia and prepared for living in Asia. People I’ve talked to have questioned my decision for deciding this, even though I’m not the only one planning the event. I suspect I could lower the iron cleaver and declare that no animals will have been harmed for the creating of this Thanksgiving, but I won’t.

There will be green bean casserole and mashed potatoes with whole milk and butter, pumpkin cheesecake and whipped cream, coffee and tea with half-and-half. There will be corn pudding with egg in it. There will be a turkey.

If I was having a day even dominated by vegetarians, I would push for the full vegan experience. However, as far as I know, I am the only person there who does not partake in animal products. (I’ll be honest, if I was going to my aunt’s for Thanksgiving, I’d be eating that green bean casserole even knowing it was loaded with dairy. I’d feel bad about it later, but I would eat it and enjoy it because Thanksgiving is about family.) Even though for several of the participants, it will be their first Thanksgiving, they are omnivorous and will happily eat turkey.

Freedom From Want, by Normal Rockwell, depicts a family at Thanksgiving dinner. The mother is serving a turkey, while the father stands, waiting to cut it. Around the table sit their friends, their children, and their children's children.

I am pretty sure my only right to use this is Fair Use. It is exempt from my CC-BY-SA license. Click on the image to see the Wikipedia argument for Fair Use.

The culture of Thanksgiving is about the shared experience of being connected. We make that more literal by sharing food. To remove someone from this–from the eating–is to remove them from your family and your culture. I want to share as much of where I come from–of my aunt’s green bean casserole (can you tell how much I love that stuff?) and my mom’s cheesecake recipe–with these people and bring them into my culture.

As someone who cannot remember the last time she ate turkey, it is still a part of my culture as it is part of being an American. The image of a Thanksgiving dinner includes a turkey, and even vegetarian meals try to simulate the experience. They understand the cultural necessity of that centerpiece of the table.

Or they just like the challenge. I know I often do.

A photograph of two "hand turkeys" cut out of construction paper.

Two vegan turkeys, photo courtesy of eyeliam on Flickr. CC-BY

There will be lots of vegan friendly food. I’ve been heartily inspired by Vegan YumYum’s Thanksgiving menu from 2008. But that’s not -Thanksgiving-. That’s tasty, that’s fall food, but Thanksgiving is my aunt’s white ceramic dishes holding vegetables. Napkin lined wicker baskets full of food. Candles and wine. A turkey. And leftovers. I haven’t told the British about those yet.

Dinner, 01

For dinner last night I made, well, I made “what can I do with that’s in the fridge?”

I’d requested some leafy greens, for my own obsession with raw ones. Kale was acquired, and since I don’t really enjoy raw kale, I cooked it up.

The kale was from market basked. Who knows where it came from.

A good way to cook things like kale or collards if you’re feeling lazy is to put some broth in a pan and toss the greens in. We have knorr vegetarian vegetable bullion available.

The bullion contains the following ingredients:

Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oils, Monosodium Glutamate, Yeast Extract, Dehydrated Vegetables (Onion, Cabbage, Carrots, Parsley, Garlic), Sugar, Corn Starch, Spices, Caramel and Turmeric for Color, Disodium Inosinate, Citric Acid.

Knorr is owned by Unilever. Unilever is huge. They say they’re into sustainability. I’m not sure where it’s made or where its ingredients come from.

I e-mailed Unilever about the bullion, so we’ll see. I think I need to do more research before I can talk about what’s in these, even in a general sense.

There was brown rice. I forget the brand name. No one is home to check.

I also made a sort of salsa, containing corn, tomatoes, basil, and garlic from our CSA. World PEAS is located in Lowell, MA. World PEAS is a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association and describes their farming practices as “naturally grown.” They have some association with Tufts.

I’m going to miss out CSA in the winter.

There was also some jalapeno from our garden.

I heated some peanut oil up.

The peanut oil is Hollywood Peanut Oil.

It contains: Peanut oil, dl-beta-tocopheryl acetate and dl-beta-tocopheryl

This means “peanut oil and vitamin E.”

Hollywood is part of the Hain Celestial Group, which includes a bunch of other companies like Celestial Seasonings, Arrowhead Mills, WestSoy, Walnut Acres, Rice Dream, Avalon, Alba, and JASON (to name a few).

I cooked the garlic, jalapeno, and basil for a bit in the oil while I cut up the tomatoes and cut the corn off the cob.

These were added together and mixed.

We had some tortillas that were used to eat it, but I used a bowl and spoon.