Archive for the ‘This and That’ Category

I LOVE my Instant Pot (also known affectionately as an iPot, InstaPot, Insta Pot, or even just the IP)! But I will be the first to admit that it can be a little daunting getting comfortable with it at first, and it can feel like it has a pretty steep learning curve. So if you are feeling a little intimidated by your new Instant Pot, you’re not alone! Plus, the manual does not include certain information that I, at least, was looking for. Such as, how long is each pre-programmed cooking cycle? Exactly what temperature do the various sauté settings heat to? What sorts of things fit inside the Instant Pot for pot-in-pot (PIP) cooking, and just what is pot in pot cooking? Things like that.

First, it is almost impossible to mess up with this thing to a point of being dangerous, so if you’re concerned about the exploding pressure cookers of yore, you needn’t be (I said “almost”, don’t go overriding your pot’s safety features and then blame me when you poke an eye out). The lid audibly tells you when it’s sealed (when you turn it clockwise), and the pot won’t even build up much pressure if you haven’t properly closed the steam release handle by turning it, too, clockwise. The most likely point at which a problem could arise would be if you try to open the lid (by turning it counter-clockwise) before all of the pressure has been released and normalized (so don’t do that). The pot visually lets you know when it’s safe to open the pot, by the float valve (the little silver post that pops up when the pot is pressurized) dropping back down flush with the lid instead of being popped up. Think of the float valve as the reverse of a turkey pop-up button, in the case of the float valve it’s done when the button pops in, instead of out.

insta pot steam release handle open

 

instant pot steam release closed

 

The sauté function has three temperature settings: ‘Normal’ heats to 320°, ‘More’ heats to 338°, and ‘Less’ heats to 221° (all in Fahrenheit)

instant pot saute temperatures

 

For pressure cooking, you will probably use ‘manual’ nearly all the time (nearly every Instant Pot cookbook I’ve read relies on the manual setting almost exclusively). So don’t feel badly for not using all of those other buttons very much, if at all (I’ve never used any of the preprogrammed buttons).

instant pot manual button

 

The preprogrammed settings each have their own timing, and variable pressure, which the pot manipulates by manipulating the temperature of the contents (the higher the temperature, the higher the pressure). That is primarily what makes them different from manual, which provides one consistent pressure (either high or low). However they generally bring the contents to high pressure, fluctuating the temperature a little so that the pressure fluctuates a little too, for a set period of time. The main exceptions to that are the rice and multigrain settings. Personally I just find it easier to use ‘manual’ and set the time that I want, even for rice.

After you hit ‘manual’ to start cooking, you then set the amount of time you want it to cook at pressure, after which you will have a 10-second grace period (for example to add more time, etc.), after which the display will switch to displaying the word “on”. Then it will be a while before the display switches to the timer countdown. This is normal. The amount of time you enter is for how long it will cook after it reaches full pressure (either high or low pressure, depending on what you selected).

Put another way, once the pot reaches the correct pressure, the display will switch from ‘on’ to display the cooking time, and then the timer will start counting down.

The cooking time in any recipe is the time at full pressure, not in total. So you need to take into account the time it will take to reach full pressure (which depends on many variables, including what is in the contents of the pot, what temperature they started at, and your altitude), and how long it will take for the pressure to be released and normalized (i.e. for the float valve to pop in, which of course is really “dropping in”, but you get the point). And this brings us to the two different types of pressure release.

All Instant Pot recipes will include (or should include) either one of these terms: natural pressure release (also known as NPR), or quick pressure release (QPR or QR). What these mean is simply either “let the pressure dissipate on its own” (natural pressure release), or “force the pressure to escape immediately by turning the steam release handle counter-clockwise to the open position (quick release). The reason for using quick release (QR) is not because you are too impatient to wait for natural release, but because your food will be over cooked if you don’t get it the heck out of dodge once it’s done cooking at pressure. On the other hand, lots of (if not most) foods need the natural release – it’s part of their cooking process and processing time.

Natural pressure release generally takes between 15 and 20 minutes.

Quick pressure release takes about a minute, plus the hours spent in the ER if you forget to KEEP YOUR HANDS, FACE, AND ALL OTHER BODY PARTS AWAY FROM THE STEAM VALVE WHEN YOU DO IT!! Many people put a towel over the valve before they turn it, to help suppress the steam, which you may want to do (I don’t because then I just end up with a scalding hot towel – but I also rarely need to do QR, and those times that I do, I’m sufficiently respectful of the power and heat of that steam to keep my distance).

Finally, in my experience, unless you are doing a “dump everything in at once and turn it on” recipe, you will definitely want to have all of your ingredients ready to go before you start cooking. For example, for any recipe that includes sautéing in the pot first, then adding ingredients and then starting pressure cooking, you definitely want to have everything lined up before you start.

Ok, I think that those are about all of the things that I had wished that I had fully understood on my first day with my Instant Pot.

Oh, actually there’s one more thing. I didn’t fully appreciate, until several days in, just how amazing this aspect of the Instant Pot is: you can start something cooking in it, and then walk away – even leave the house, and it will finish cooking just like you instructed, and be perfectly done, and then it will keep it warm for up to 10 hours! Not keep cooking it, just keep it warm. For up to 10 hours! You can put something in there in the morning, leave for the day, and come back to a perfectly cooked whatever, just waiting for you! Booyah! (I think this is the thing that pressure cooker purists who try to talk people out of getting an Instant Pot, rather than a stovetop pressure cooker, fail to understand. You can’t just walk away from a stovetop pressure cooker after the stuff starts cooking.)

Now, here are the the best accessories (in my opinion) that you will want for your Instant Pot.

You definitely will want this steamer basket for your Instant Pot (the Instant Pot comes with a little steaming trivet, but this steamer basket is way more useful – in fact it’s how you make the baked potatoes). Actually you will want *a* steamer basket, but trust me, this is the one you want, both because of the big handle, the fact that the handle telescopes, and, most importantly, you can use it with or without the little legs flipped down, and when you flip the little legs down, they give you plenty of space for as much water for steaming as you could ever need without worrying about the water touching the food that’s in the basket.

Or, instead of, or in addition to, the above steamer, you can get this steamer basket and steaming rack / trivet set. The legs on this trivet are an inch and a half high (the rack that comes with your Instant Pot only gives 3/4 of an inch of clearance). and the flat-bottomed steamer is very versatile.

Personally, I have both, as they each serve their own purpose, and the trivet that comes with the set is really useful for pot-in-pot cooking, at which you may also want to try your hand. Pot-in-pot (or “PIP”) is where you put a second, smaller vessel inside your Instant Pot’s main internal pot. There are different reasons for doing this, ranging from “I only want to cook a small amount of something like oatmeal” to “I want to cook a cheesecake in my Instant Pot” to “I want to cook two different things at the same time in my Instant Pot” (like cooking beans, and having a bowl of rice on a trivet (see why you want a good trivet?) above the beans, steam cooking at the same time).

For pot-in-pot cooking, I recommend any stainless steel vessel that is no greater in diameter than 7.5 inches, and no taller than 4 or so inches (your internal pot has a diameter of just over 8.5 inches and a height of about 6 inches). Lots of people use glass vessels such as Pyrex or Corningware, but I personally prefer to use stainless steel because if you drop it you’ll just have a mess, rather than a mess plus broken glass.

If you’re really keen on making cheesecakes, steamed puddings, flans, and that sort of thing in your Instant Pot, you may also want to grab this stainless steel pot-in-pot ‘dessert insert’ pan set, which includes two stacking pans. and a rack to set them on which has handles that close up over the pans to secure them.

You will also want this separate glass lid that is sold by the Instant Pot people. This lids fits on your inner metal pot, and this way when you are using your Instant Pot for non-pressurized cooking, such as when using it as a slow cooker, or with the sauté function, you will be able to see what is going on in there. Basically, in these usages, you can think of your Instant Pot as a counter-top stove burner (albeit one with really cool bells and whistles) – that may help you to understand why you want a (see-through!) lid for that inner pot. Plus, once you are done cooking in any mode, you can use the inner pot to store the leftovers in your fridge, and use this lid to cover it.

In terms of Instant Pot cookbooks to get you started, they are a relatively new genre, and a lot of them are only available as Kindle or other digital format books. Personally, I like to have a physical book when it comes to cookbooks, and so I like this one:

I also happen to be a strict vegetarian, and for vegetarian and vegan Instant Pot cooking, Vegan Pressure Cooking: Delicious Beans, Grains, and One-Pot Meals in Minutes by J.L. Fields is considered the best book out there (it’s pretty darned good!)

If you also are vegetarian or vegan, you’ll appreciate the recipes in O M Gee Good! Instant Pot Meals, Plant-Based & Oil-Free by Jill McKeever.

Finally, you can’t go wrong with America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, and their Pressure Cooker Perfection is no exception:

And speaking of recipes – here is how to make those baked potatoes:

Remember how I said you could make baked potatoes in 12 minutes? And remember how I said that the recipe times are for the time at pressure? ;~) Still, even given the time to come to pressure, and to have the pressure come back down, you can have perfectly steam-baked potatoes in under half an hour, and the best part is that you can start them, and then walk away! When you are ready for your potatoes, they will be perfectly done and waiting for you, held at a perfect temperature, even if you have abandoned them for hours! Just put water in the bottom of your Instant Pot, flip the legs down on your Oxo steamer, put the steamer in the pot and then dump your potatoes in on top of the steamer. Using the Manual setting, set the cooking time for 12 minutes, using high pressure. Then walk away! Now, because these are ‘steam baked’ (i.e. cooked whole over steam, but not in water), the skins will not be crisp, but these are otherwise exactly like the baked potatoes you know and love – they’re great with butter, sour cream, etc.! This works with new potatoes, and regular potatoes!

Want another easy recipe? Check out our original Instant Pot Fruit Crisp recipe!

Happy Instant Potting!

Here are the links to all of the accessories and cookbooks discussed in this article, so that you have them handy:


Why are we posting about humane cheese on a vegan site? Because we are so thrilled to discover a small, slaughter-free dairy farm that is dedicated to providing a wonderful life to their cows, treating their cows as family pets, never slaughtering them – male or female – and who ships the cheese they make for sale! Because we feel that if you are able to explain why you support this cheese, it is a way to get people for whom going vegan seems too extreme to still think about the issues and realize there are better ways.

Gita Nigari Farm, also known as “the yoga farm”, is a farm based on the tenets of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. As such, they are imbued with the philosophy of Ahimsa, as well as the Hindu reverence for cows. As they say, front and center on their sites, they are the first slaughter free dairy in the USA – no cows or bulls are either killed or exploited to produce their dairy products, and “our cows and bulls are protected for their entire lives!”

Well, when we heard about this, we had to reach out to them, and try their products. Again, while not vegan, if more farms operated like the Gita Nigari Yoga Farm, the concerns about animal welfare would be raised in our collective conscience, and one of the primary reasons that people go vegan – over concerns for animal welfare – would start to be addressed on a wider basis.

Put another way – the Gita Nigari Farm serves as an example of how a dairy farm can, and should be run. The more people who know about it, the more people can demand nothing less of dairy farms. And we consider that a win for the animals.

The Gita Nigari Yoga farm produces and sells humane sharp cheddar cheese, baby Swiss cheese, paneer (a mild Indian cheese), ghee (clarified butter), buttermilk, and carob milk.

At the time of this writing, the price for the cheese is $12.00 per pound, and they will ship across the United States. The shipping price for up to three pounds is a flat rate of $10.00, via the USPS. They accept Paypal.

Yes, it’s more costly than the cheese you can buy at the supermarket. So yes, it’s likely not going to be something you eat daily; but as a treat – and to support a farm that actually reveres their cows and cossets them, we say it’s worth a splurge of support every now and then!

Of course, by “slaughter-free” we aren’t just referring to what happens at the end of life for these cows and bulls. As most of you probably already know, part of the slaughter cycle at most dairy farms is slaughter of newborn calves, and the harvesting of rennet from their stomachs, which is then used in cheese production. As Gita Nagari farm is a slaughter-free dairy, they use vegetarian rennet (for you non-vegans reading this, always check the ingredients on cheese, if it doesn’t specifically say “vegetable rennet”, that cheese is almost certainly not even vegetarian).

Here is the unboxing of our order of Gita Nigari Yoga Farm humane, slaughter-free cheese:

The package arrived via USPS. We had been provided by email with a tracking number as soon as the package left the farm.

gita nigari humane slaughter free cheese package

 

The cheese was packaged really well, being double-wrapped, and they had included an ice pack (by the time it arrived to us, the ice pack had melted, but it had done its job – the cheese was still fine when it arrived):

gita nigari humane slaughter free cheese opening

 

The cheese itself, in the package:

gita nigari humane slaughter free cheese in package

 

We ordered three pounds of cheese – two of the sharp cheddar, and one of the swiss:

gita nigari humane slaughter free cheese cheddar and swiss

 

Don’t you love their label?:

gita nigari humane slaughter free cheese cheddar

 

gita nigari humane slaughter free cheese baby swiss

 

So, how does it taste? It tastes like a wonderful cheese, made with love, respect, and a dash of good karma. :-)

humane slaughter-free cheese

 

You can check out Gita Nagari Yoga farm here, where you can read about their cow protection program, and you can even adopt a cow!

While we normally focus on vegan and gluten free meals, books, and food products, it can be challenging to find other consumables that are both vegan and gluten-free. For instance, what do you get to cheer up your favorite vegan and gluten-free loved one who is ill? We have all the products you need to put together a vegan and gluten free cold and flu kit that will put a smile on anyone’s face.

Vegan and Gluten-Free Cold & Flu Care Kit

Nature’s Way Sambucus Original Syrup – Many swear by sambucus or, elderberry, to treat symptoms of the flu, such as respiratory issues.

Thayers Slippery Elm Lozenges – Slippery elm has long been used to soothe sore throats, and this lozenge heals and coats painful throats.

Yogi Tea Cold Season Sampler – Tea is a stabple in the cold/flu-fighting arsenal. Yogi Tea has an excellent collection of cold and flu teas, and their sampler offers samples of each one: Echinacea Immune Support, Cold Season, Breathe Deep and Throat Comfort.

Oil of Oregano” – Many swear by the efficacy of Oil of Oregano in either fighting colds and flus, or make them run their course much faster.

And don’t forget the handkerchiefs! This 6-pack of 100% cotton handkerchiefs from Selini are soft, and perfect to dry runny noses, without irritating sensitive skin.

A huge coffee mug is always the perfect holder for these goodies, and then doubles to make a delicious cup of Yogi Tea.

vbpwitchhazelfinal

Looking for a Christmas gift for that tough-to-shop-for vegan? Vegan chef and YouTube show host Vegan Zombie has teamed up with Conscious Box to create the Vegan Conscious Box for conscious consumers.

Conscious Box is a service that offers subscribers access to a monthly box full of goodies that have been specifically curated from businesses that operate sustainably, ethically, and with social responsibility. The contents are always a surprise, and the products will always be different. The contents can be seasonal, or be geared towards a special event and are suitable for all ages.

The Vegan Zombie hosts a YouTube channel that is dedicated to cooking vegan food and surviving the zombie apocalypse. Along with his German Shepherd dog, Indy, The Vegan Zombie dishes up some delicious, animal-free grub, while giving the best zombie survival tips. The Vegan Conscious Box is filled with all of the Vegan Zombie’s favorite products, hand-picked by him to ensure they are truly animal-friendly.

As the Vegan Zombie himself says, “What if the entire world wakes up on Christmas morning only to find themselves transformed into zombies? The entire world, that is, except for you—a vegan, who didn’t imbibe in the Christmas ham that’s infected everyone you know and care about. How will you fend off the flesh-eating hordes? With December’s Vegan Conscious Box, of course—the best Z-Day survival kit ever created.”

The Vegan Conscious Box is $19.95 per month and full of everything from snack foods to body care. It should be noted that the edible vegan goodies in the Vegan Conscious Box may *not* necessarily be gluten free, so if you order the service for yourself, you may have to take your chances on having to give a few items away to lucky friends and family who are not gluten intolerant. But there are still all of the other fun goodies to hoard for yourself!

All any even slightly health-conscious eater need do to decide if they want to support a GMO (genetically modified organism) truth-in-labeling law such as California’s Prop 37 is to look at the major donors to both sides of the campaign.

For example, the major donors in support of California’s Prop 37 GMO truth-in-labeling initiative include:

Mercola Health Resources, Organic Consumers Fund, Nature’s Path Foods, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Wehah Farm (Lundberg Family Farms), Alex Bogusky, Amy’s Kitchen, Clif Bar & Co., Great Foods of America, and Annie’s, Inc.

Those against it?

Monsanto, Bayer Crop science, Pepsico, Inc., Nestle USA, Coca-Cola North America, Conagra Foods, Syngenta Corporation, General Mills, Del Monte Foods, Kellogg Company, Hershey Company, The J.M. Smucker Company, Council for Biotechnology Information, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Hormel Foods, Bumble Bee Foods, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Sara Lee, Bimbo Bakeries, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Pinnacle Foods, Dean Foods Company, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Campbell’s Soup, McCormick & Company, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Rich Products Corporation, Cargill, Inc., Dole Packaged Foods, Knouse Foods Cooperative, and Mars Food North America.

And if you cannot tell by the heavy hitters opposing this initiative, the “No on Prop 37″ campaign has some serious funding behind it. The “No on Prop 37″ campaign has a whopping $37.5 million backing it, while “Yes on Prop 37″ has just over $4 million backing it. Monsanto, the GMO giant, donated $7 million alone to the “No on Prop 37″ campaign. What “Yes on Prop 37″ does have going for it is the loyal, and constantly growing, crowds of consumers who are demanding healthy food choices, truth in labeling, and, in this case, the right to choose whether or not to purchase and ingest GMO foods.

For those of you who do not know, California’s Proposition 37 will require that raw or processed foods made from plants or animals with genetically modified material be labeled as such. It will also prohibit these foods from labeling and advertising their goods as “natural,” a loophole that has surely upset all of the companies selling food products containing GMO. Because the word “natural” really has no legal meanings, companies have been able to get away with labeling their foods as such, misleading consumers into believing that they were eating safe and healthy foods. Sounds like a great law, right? So why are these giant food corporations against it?

Well we could look at the surface, which is all of the reasons that they *say* they are against the initiative. According the “No on Prop 37″ people, their concern is that it has too many special interest exemptions and it green lights shakedown lawsuits. One quote from the campaign states, “It’s a deceptive, deeply flawed food labeling scheme that would add more government bureaucracy and taxpayer costs, create new frivolous lawsuits, and increase food costs by billions–without providing any health or safety benefits.”

In fact, “No on 37″ directly said:

  • “Biotechnology, also called genetic engineering (GE), has been used for nearly two decades to grow varieties of corn, soybeans and other crops that resist diseases and insects and require fewer pesticides. Thousands of common foods are made with ingredients from biotech crops. Prop 37 bans these perfectly safe foods only in California unless they’re specially relabeled or remade with higher cost ingredients.”
  • Notice how they state how widely genetically modified items are used, while downplaying the fact that potential impacts on human health including transferring antibiotic resistant markers, allergens, cross-pollination causing unintended transfer of transgenes, loss of biodiversity of flora and fauna, and other potential health risks, such as cancer, are being studied as this is typed.

    [NOTE: We *highly* recommend reading the very revealing book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating. You will be shocked and sickened at how the rest of the world has already banned the same GMO food that is being sold freely in the U.S., based on sound, and shocking, science.]

    The “Yes on 37″ campaign happily provided, and delved right into (warning, this link is a PDF download), the dollars and cents of this new initiative. And over in Europe, where GMO labeling has been mandatory since 1997, former European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Parliament, David Byrne, said that, “it did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) prediction of some interests.”

    And why are they continuing to confuse the issue by saying that there will be cost increases due to food companies having to switch to non-GM ingredients? The ballot says they just have to label GM foods, it isn’t outlawing them.

    But wait a minute? Could it be that the “No on 37″ camp knows that if people see what they are actually eating, they may make healthier food choices and demand no-GM foods (by the way, by definition, if a food is labeled “organic” then it *must* be non-GMO)? Now THAT will certainly impact these mega food companies financially. Otherwise, it seems they are blowing a lot of steam over some simple labeling and aiming to keep consumers from knowing exactly what they are eating.

    Bottom line: Californians, and consumers everywhere, have a right to know what they are eating.

Beef Products Inc. (BPI), makers of lean finely textured beef product (LFTB) that has been dubbed “pink slime,” has slapped ABC News and three of its reporters with a $1.2 billion lawsuit. Many have seen the pictures of LFTB making their way around the Internet after it made headlines for being used in fast food restaurants and millions of school lunches, nationwide. BPI is claiming damages, including revenue and job losses, due to ABC’s coverage of LFTB.

LFTB is made from connective tissue and meat scraps that are ground together. To sanitize it, it is cleaned with a mixture of ammonia and water. The ammonia mixture, ammonium hydroxide, is considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe), by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), but that fact didn’t stop many consumers from being disgusted that it is in the food population. McDonald’s, who used LFTB under the name “select beef trimmings,” discontinued using the product as a filler in their hamburger patties after the revelation of the pink slime outraged many.

In a video defending their product, BPI founder Eldon Roth said, “There has to be some consequences for news organizations to be more truthful. They hurt real people, and a lot of people.” Roth claims that ABC News made reports that were false and damaging. BPI’s attorney, Dan Webb, said in a written public statement, “Through nearly 200 false, misleading and defamatory statements, repeated continuously during a month-long disinformation campaign, ABC and other individuals knowingly misled consumers into believing that LFTB was not beef and not safe for public consumption, which is completely false.”

BPI claims that, since ABC and other media outlets began coverage of the meat product, sales have declined over 50%, going from five million pounds of LFTB per week, to under two million pounds per week. They’ve had to close three facilities and lay off over 700 employees. In addition to McDonald’s discontinued use of LFTB, Burger King, Taco Bell, Safeway, Food Lion and SUPERVALU have all discontinued it as well. It wasn’t long before a Change.org petition resulted in the USDA announcing the decision to offer school districts the option of beef without LFTB. With this loss, BPI is asking for over $1 billion in statutory and compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages for what they are calling, “defamation, product and food disparagement, and tortious interference with business relationships.”

What is particularly being called into account is the fact that the substance started being called “pink slime,” which is considered especially damning. Food safety attorney Bill Marler, who is representing former FSIS employees named in the lawsuit, says that he believes that, “The words ‘pink slime’ came from an internal email between inspectors at FSIS commenting on the product. Another inspector called it ‘Soylent Pink’ – which I thought was even better. These documents came out during litigation I had with Cargill in 2009, which the New York Times used in part to get a Pulitzer. Then almost three years later, The Daily writes a story that some chains had quietly stopped using LFTB, then a mom blogger puts up a petition asking that it be taken out of the school lunch program and ABC picks it up from there.”

Senior Vice President of ABC News, Jeffrey Schneider said that the lawsuit is meritless and that ABC will be contesting it vigorously. We take it as a huge victory in the right direction, as consumers are being armed with the truth and changing their dietary decisions.

One of the biggest reasons that we are vegan is out of concern for animals. While some are vegan by necessity, say because of allergies, the vast majority of vegans feel that animals should not suffer and die for food when there are plenty of other delicious, sustaining foods. Because animal welfare is a concern of vegans, we are particularly disheartened to hear about instances when animals suffer and die for other needless purposes such as entertainment and fashion.

When the feather hair extension trend began, we were disappointed to say the least. Vegans tend to be more savvy about the injustices facing food animals, and we immediately knew that, however the feathers were being harvested, it wouldn’t be kind. Even when we heard many insiders emphatically claim that the feathers “naturally fell off of the roosters,” we knew that this was likely not the case.

The fact is, feathers for hair extensions are not harvested after falling naturally off of the rooster. And for those who claim they are coming from roosters who already being slaughtered for food anyway, we are sad to say that this is not the truth either. In reality, roosters are raised specifically for the purposes of obtaining feathers for extensions, and once they reach maturity, those feathers are harvested and the roosters are discarded. Since roosters only produce a maximum of 5 or 6 feathers each, many roosters are needed for the feather trade, meaning they are in very small, crowded housing units. Because the feather industry doesn’t want to deal with bloody feathers, the roosters are asphyxiated by Carbon Dioxide, rather than being slaughtered. A Carbon Dioxide death is a slow, painful, panic-inducing death.

And we cannot live in the delusion that perhaps Whiting Farms, the biggest producers of feathers for hair extensions, doesn’t realize how cruel this type of environment is for these roosters. The Delta, Colorado-based farms’ owner, Thomas Whiting, has been quoted as saying:

“[We're] sentencing [each rooster] to a solitary cage for the last 6 months, with nothing to look at or listen to other than lots of other confined roosters … [y]our sentiments can quickly shift from wanting to evaluate their necks to wringing [t]hem. Some of my most sheepish moments in life have been after hurling an especially bad rooster across the barn in utter frustration ….”

United Poultry Concerns (UPC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to make the public aware of how poultry is treated by society. They address this in all manners of situations, including food production, science, education, entertainment and as companion pets. They have heavy educational outreach programs, lecturing at conferences, offering film presentations, providing writings and mailings, and information displays.

UPC has recently posted an open letter to Aveda, the natural and organic beauty product company who has started selling feather extensions in some of their salons. The letter was directed towards Aveda President & CEO Dominique Conseil. Aveda, owned by notorious animal testing company Estee Lauder, responded to initial correspondences by sending a note to salon owners, urging them to stop carrying the extensions. However, it was still optional for the salons to carry the feathers. UPC in turn responded with the open letter below, asking Aveda to make it mandatory that the salons cease carrying the feather extensions. We have posted the letter below, as well as the contact information for Aveda. We urge you to also write to Aveda, urging them to ban the feathers from their salons.

An Open Letter to AVEDA President & CEO Dominique Conseil from United Poultry Concerns

Dear Mr. Conseil,

On behalf of United Poultry Concerns, I am  writing to you regarding the display and sale of rooster feather hair extensions in your spas and salons. Popularized by American Idol host Steven Tyler, these hair feathers have attracted customers who are unaware of the cruelty they involve. The reality is this: A company called Whiting Farms in Colorado raises thousands of roosters in battery-cage warehouses in order to obtain 5 or 6 tail feathers from each rooster. To avoid bloody feathers, the company gasses the roosters to death with carbon dioxide (CO2). The roosters die slowly and painfully by asphyxiation. They suffocate to death. The dead roosters are then trashed. In 2011, we posted an alert on the Internet about rooster feather hair extensions.

Shocked, Aveda patrons informed us that Aveda salons were selling these feathers. We wrote a letter urging you to remove all feather products from your stores. We urged you to develop a policy banning feather products and all animal cruelty products from your retail network. Inspired by Aveda’s claim of being an “animal-friendly brand culture” whose mission “is to care for the world we live in,” we approached you hopefully. Aveda’s image is that of a cruelty-free, animal friendly company. This image has inspired the trust of compassionate beauty-care customers. Readers of VegNews magazine – the world’s largest surveyor of vegan people, places, and products – have awarded several Aveda products their “Favorite” in the past 8 years.

Your 11 VegNews Veggie Awards have helped your company to grow in reputation and sales.

Responding to our campaign, you acknowledged that you are now aware of the cruelty of feather hair extensions and of feather products generally, which can also involve plucking live birds for their feathers. You shared a letter that you said was being distributed to your salon network, in which you state: “We feel strongly that these products and services do not align with the Aveda Mission.”

We are very grateful for your letter to your retailers. However, we are concerned about the message that follows in which you assure them that “it is not our place to dictate what you should or should not do.” We believe it is Aveda’s place to dictate ethical policy to any retail outlet bearing or affiliated with your name and from which you profit. We believe it is particularly important where animal cruelty, consumer trust, and the integrity of Aveda’s Mission are at stake. In addition, we hope that by telling your retailers that Aveda can assist with “transitioning” the feather products from their businesses if they wish, that you do not mean diverting these inhumane products to other marketing channels.We hope that you realize the importance of our concerns to your business.

We hope you will respond in a way that supports Aveda’s reputation as a company that truly does “care for the world we live in.” Please develop and implement a policy banning rooster feather hair extensions and all animal cruelty products from Aveda’s retail network. We look forward to your response. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Karen Davis, PhD
President, United Poultry Concerns

Please Contact Aveda Today!

Dominique Conseil, President
AVEDA
4000 Pheasant Ridge Drive
Blaine, MN 55449
Customer Service: 1-800-328-0849 Fax: 1-800-236-4301
Email: Aveda@aveda.com, custrel@aveda.com

It seems like every time we turn around these days we are hearing another reason why our produce is compromised. From pesticides to genetically modified organisms (GMO), it seems that very little food is safe. Well thanks to the handy “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides”, created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), shoppers can now view a full line-up of which produce is the safest to eat, and which they need to make sure they are buying in organic form only.

The EWG, a non-profit organization, puts providing the power of information to all consumers at the top of its priority list, in fact, it is part of the EWG’s mission statement. They aim to make consumer safety information widely and easily accessed by all, and offer a full list of produce, graded on a scale of “dirty to clean.” With the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, you will be able to give yourself as minimal a risk to pesticide exposure as possible, while still making economical grocery purchasing decisions for your family. The EWG understands that, while buying organic produce is ideal, it is not always financially possible, especially in today’s economy. They will provide you information on which non-organic produce items are the safest (such as onions) and which are the “dirtiest”(apples).

EWG has two at-a-glance lists: “The Clean 15” and “The Dirty Dozen.” The EWG says that if you eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day from the Clean 15 list, rather than the Dirty Dozen, you will cut the amount of pesticides you consume on a daily basis by an astonishing 92%. A scarier point they make is that if you eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies from the Dirty Dozen list, you will consume, on average, 14 different pesticides per day.

The Dirty Dozen list includes (in order from worst to better):

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens

Over 97% of the samples that were taken from non-organic imported apples, nectarines and plums all tested positive for pesticides. Imported and domestic grapes and strawberries all had 13, or more, different pesticides on one single sample. Peaches, apples and raspberries each had a combination of 51, or more, different chemicals on them. On top of that, they found that vegetables such as celery, spinach, lettuce and potatoes like to absorb pesticides and retain those nasty chemicals.

The Clean Fifteen list includes:

  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asaragus
  • Sweet peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

The best veggies were asparagus, sweet corn and onions, with 90% of the samples, or higher, testing with no detectable pesticides. Cabbage, eggplant and sweet peas had detectable pesticides found on 20-25% of them. Of the fruits, pineapple, avocado and mango led the pack, with less than 10% of samples having detectable pesticides.

The EWG took information from the tests ran by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2009. The tests were performed on 53 of the top fruits and vegetables sold in the US, and the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides ranks the produce by degree of pesticide contamination. They note that, in almost all of the tests, the produce samples were first rinsed or peeled. Contamination of pesticides was measured by the percent of samples with detectable pesticides, the percent of samples with two or more pesticides detected, the average number of pesticides found on each sample, the maximum number of different pesticides found on a sample and the total number of pesticides found on a sample.

The neat thing about the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides is that they offer their produce safety information in different formats to appeal to all shoppers, and make it as easy as possible for shoppers to keep handy. Users can download a PDF version of the shopper’s guide, or a smart phone app. To learn more about the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, and download the PDF or app, visit their website.

We wanted to bring you both a recipe and some of our favorite quick kitchen tips for National Celiac Awareness Month. This article centers around ice cube trays; a long underused kitchen tool.

Ice cubes trays are not just for ice cubes! There are tons of ways to utilize them to make food prep quicker and easier throughout your busy week, or help you prepare for a social gathering! Most of these ideas work great if you pick a few hours on Sunday to devote to your food prep for the week.

Freeze vegetable broth – whether you make your own, or take the shortcut of using vegetable bullion, or buy it pre-made, freezing your broth in ice cube trays allows for you to use as much or as little as you want. These are perfect for single serving soups – just grab a few cubes, toss them in a mug with some veggies and pop in the microwave, or heat in a small saucepan.

Pesto – make your pesto ahead of time and freeze it into cubes. For a night when you need a quick and easy dinner, thaw out a few cubes and toss them with your favorite gluten-free pasta or some delicious veggies, like steamed asparagus.

Wheat grass – We like to buy those little pots of fresh, growing wheat grass at the grocery store and trim it once a week (it grows fast!). We then throw the handful of trimmings in our blender, pour some water in it, and blend it until it is nice and smooth. We then pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it. Every morning when we make a fruit smoothie, we toss a few of the wheat grass cubes in the smoothie!

Fruit juice – Summer is the perfect time to make ice cubes out of fruit juice. Use it in place of water cubes for iced tea, other fruit juice, or fruity cocktails. Instead of your drink getting diluted, it gets more flavorful!

Coffee - Use coffee ice cubes in your iced coffee drinks so that they don’t dilute your coffee.

Fruits and Herbs – It is important to drink plenty of water every day, but it can sometimes get boring. Fill an ice cube tray with water and drop blueberries, thin lemon slices, mint, cucumber, whatever you like in each cube tray. Once frozen, drop it in your water to lightly flavor it as it melts!

Edible Flowers – Want your entertaining to look like you slaved for hours, when it was really effortless? Fill an ice cube tray with water, then drop an edible flower in each cube before freezing. These flower ice cubes will look gorgeous floating in some lemonade, water or white sangria.

Layered Ice Cubes - Really wow your guests with layered fruit juice ice cubes. Gather some of your favorite fruit juices in an array of colors, such as orange juice, cranberry juice, peach nectar and grape juice. Put a small layer of one juice in entire tray, freeze about an hour, then a put a thin layer of another juice in a contrasting color in the entire tray, then freeze about an hour, then another juice in a contrasting color, and freeze about an hour. Do this until the tray is full. You will have beautiful, striped ice cubes. You can get creative, like using pomegranate juice, water and blueberry puree for the Fourth of July, or just using water and concord grape juice for a purple striped effect.

Remember that, with any of these, you will want to seal them in a Ziploc bag, or airtight mason jar, to avoid cross-contamination of flavors in the freezer!

And now that you are ice cube-savvy, here is one of our favorite ways to dazzle guests with simple lemonade, while making it look like we are entertainers extraordinaire.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Lavender Lemonade

Ingredients:

14 lemons

5 cups water

1 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup culinary lavender

Directions:

Rinse lemons and zest two of the lemons. Set lemon zest aside. Juice the lemons and combine the juice, water and agave nectar in a pitcher and stir well. Fill an ice cube tray with lemonade and sprinkle a few sprigs of lavender and a pinch of lemon zest in each cube. Freeze. While freezing, put pitcher of remaining lemonade in fridge. Once the ice cubes are fully frozen, add them back to the pitcher of lemonade and serve.

This is a beautiful beverage to serve on a hot summer day. Barbecue some Tofu Pups (affiliate link), pour yourself some lavender lemonade, and enjoy a beautiful, sunny day!

Do you love the color pink enough to consume bugs in order to have pink food or drinks? Well Starbucks, and many other food retailers, think the pink is important enough to sneak crushed-up beetles into your consumables for the purpose of, ironically, making them seem more appetizing. That’s right, if you are in love with any of Starbucks strawberry-based drinks, such as the Strawberries and Creme frappuccino and strawberry smoothie, as well as their popular Birthday Cake Pop, mini donuts with icing and Red Velvet Whoopee Pie, you have been consuming bugs. The change to crushed bugs came just recently as they aimed to move away from artificial ingredients, such as red dye, and decided that bugs were more natural. While their thoughts were in the right place, the execution was less than thrilling to most.

While Starbucks seems to be baring the brunt of backlash against this buggy ingredient, the fact is that this ingredient, called cochineal extract, is used in many pink and red-based food and beverages, and has been for decades. Most rainbow sprinkles contain cochineal extract, as well as a vast majority of pink confections on the markets. Foods and beverages that some may be surprised to find out contain crushed beetles include:

  • Minute Maid Fruit Drink
  • Good N’ Fruity & Good N’ Plenty
  • Pixy Stix
  • Mentos Candy and Chewing Gum (which, by the way, also contain beef)
  • Dole Fruit ‘n’ Gel Bowls
  • Dole Fruit Jars

The good news is that the FDA recently made it mandatory that foods containing cochineal extract specifically state as much on their ingredients list. They began receiving reports of allergic reactions in those who unknowingly consumed the bugs, including severe reactions such as anaphylaxis. While many have known for years that cochineal is used in cosmetics, such as red lipstick, to give them their red hue, many less savvy consumers were horrified to learn that they were consuming bugs. Those who are aiming to make sure that they stay bug clean in their diet should scan ingredients lists for either “cochineal extract” or “carmine”.

The other piece of good news is that Starbucks has announced that as of June 2012, the cochineal extract will be replaced with lycopene extract, a tomato derivative. Drop them a line and let them know that you appreciate them acting so swiftly to rid their beverages of bugs!

Being vegan or vegetarian is really pretty easy, but there are certain gotchas that you have to watch out for. One of those hidden gotchas is that a lot of sugar – especially white sugar – is not vegan or even vegetarian. (For our purposes, we are using ‘vegan’ to mean “contains no animal products and no animal had to die for the product to be produced”, and ‘vegetarian’ to mean “no animal had to die for the product to be produced”, but may contain animal products such as milk or eggs.) So, back to sugar: what on earth isn’t vegetarian or vegan about sugar? Here’s what.

Did you ever wonder how white sugar gets white? It is processed – filtered – through a product to remove all the ‘impurities’, and to help it achieve its milky-white ‘perfection’. Often (not always, but often) that product through which it is filtered is charcoal. Not just any charcoal, but charcoal made from animal bones (usually cow bones), which is also known as ‘bone char’.

Fortunately, there are plenty of vegan sugar options around, and you should be able to find vegan sugar at your local Whole Foods or other health food store.

One brand of Vegan Sugar that is widely regarded is Florida Crystals, and right now Amazon has a fantastic sale on Florida Crystals: 3 x 48 ounces, for a total of 144 ounces, or 9 pounds, for just $13.59. That’s just about $1.50 a pound, plus it’s eligible for free shipping if you have Amazon Prime.

Hi, I’m Anne P. Mitchell, and I’m vegan, gluten-free, and happy! Many people think that it’s hard to be gluten free and vegan, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not only not hard, but it’s fun!

So pull up a chair at our virtual kitchen table, and join us while we share recipes and resources, and generally dish about being gluten-free and vegan!