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.

cake, 2

I found a cake recipe I really like and added it to my repertoire of basic cake recipes. It’s fluffy and moist, which is a nice combination for a cake. I made a modified vegan version. I’ve cooked it twice, once with chocolate and once without. I don’t eat soy, so I don’t cook with it. You could use soy yogurt or earth balance. I make no promises on how it will turn out.

2 tbsp ground flax meal
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup soy-free earth balance
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup coconut (or almond) yogurt.
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water

0) Turn oven on to 350.
1) Take the 3/4 cup water and mix it with ground flax. The ground part is important. Put these in a pot and boil it. Eventually, it will gain the consistency of snot. Or eggs. They’re basically the same. I do this first so it has time to cool.
2) Mix earth balance and sugar. Once it’s creamed together, add cocoa powder if that’s how you’re doing it.
3) Add yogurt and the flax meal goo. Sorry for calling it goo. I love the flax jelly you can make. It’s wonderful and adds moisture and cohesion, but it looks pretty gross.
4) Add the dry ingredients. If I feel fancy, I mix the dry ingredients separately. If I don’t, I just dump them all in at the same time. If I’m adding, say, sprinkles or chocolate chips or fruit, I mix them up with the dry ingredients. The original recipe says to sift it, but I don’t have a sifter.
5) After everything is mixed, add a cup hot/boiling water. Be careful. Stirring this can be tricky.
6) Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.


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.