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Tagged with Greenie Pig

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A newbie vegan asks: Should you fake your steak?

Tofurky time!
Jon Starbuck
Tofurky time!

There comes a time in every would-be vegan’s life when the question arises: to fake it or not to fake it? I’m talking about meat, and not meat meat, you guys -- fake meat: various slurries concocted from beans, soy, mushrooms, and vital wheat gluten and shaped to resemble burgers, hot dogs, meat loaves, and sausages. And we mustn’t forget the other substitutes, either: vegan mayonnaises, butters, eggs, milks, and (shudder) cheeses.

So, to fake it or not to fake it? Do I need them as a protein source? Do they taste remotely like my ham ‘n’ eggs from the days of yore? Or is that missing the point of these convenience foods entirely?

Before I set out with three friends to eat a strictly vegan diet for a month, my position on fake animal products was mixed at best. I’ve been known to order a veggie burger just because I didn’t feel like beef that day, and I actually like pretty much every variety of milk substitute out there. But imposter hot dogs? Tofurky? What’s the point? I’d rather just enjoy the essence of grains, beans, and fungi for themselves. Otherwise, if you’ll pardon the expression, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig, then also putting that pig in a pair of Spanx and a sequined dress and making her trot around on Dancing with the Stars. Is it any wonder if she doesn’t make the final round?

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Resistance was futile: True confessions of a fallen vegan

I could walk away right now. On the other hand...
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I could walk away right now. On the other hand ...

Over the past 20 days, my vegan challenge team and I have had a fantastic time. Everything is great. Everyone’s feeling fine. No worries. OK, I’ll check back in next week.

Ha! Not so fast. Did you really think four people doing the vegan equivalent of zero to 60 in six seconds wouldn't run into a few potholes? Week three of our monthlong vegan experiment brought frustration, temptation, and outright rebellion for Laura, Matt, Ted, and me. Deep-seated weaknesses were exposed. Closely held beliefs were tested. In other words: Things got real.

Not that the exercise has been all struggle -- far from it. Among the top benefits for all four of us: the expansion of our cooking and dining horizons. Who knew cheeseless pizza could be so satisfying? It probably wouldn't have occurred to me to try it without being compelled to, but yum. Laura and Matt found vegan enlightenment in a pine-nut spread. “Thinking of it as a cheese replacement is no good,” Laura warned us. “But as a pine-nut spread that’s delicious on everything, très wonderful.” Other surprises: portobello burgers with guacamole, non-dairy chocolate shakes, and vegan carrot cake that was pronounced “the best I’ve ever had” by four out of four samplers.

At a happy hour the other day, after I explained why I wouldn't be joining the group in an oyster slurp, an acquaintance asked if I felt any different after 20 days off the animal train. “You know, not really,” I told her -- a sentiment Ted, Laura, and Matt generally echo. Our energy levels are pretty much the same; the shiny vitality of our hair remains stable (although skin clarity has dipped noticeably for two of us since this shindig began -- who knew?).

But that’s the sunny side of the story. Four of us pledged to eat vegan for 30 days, but only one -- just one proud, lonely paragon of discipline -- remains pure. What brought the rest of us down?

INATTENTION

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Diary of a one-month vegan

oranges eyes
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Day 1: The month-long vegan experiment -- wherein I, my fiancé, and two friends try to strip all animal products from our diets (for several reasons, primary among them “just to see what it’s like”) -- is off to a running start with a three-bean salad (green, kidney, cannellini) from my new vegan cookbook for dinner. Yum!

Days 2 & 3: Strange side effect of the new diet: dramatic hunger spikes. Usually, my desire to feed unfolds like this: Hmm, I’m sort of hungry. I guess I could eat anytime. OK, now the ole stomach is really rumbling. This process typically unfolds over several hours.

Now? On a Hunger Scale of 1 to 10, I go from a 3 to OH MY GOD I WILL CHEW OFF MY OWN ARM IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME THAT CARROT RIGHT THIS SECOND in about 10 minutes. I've been trying to get enough calories and pay attention to protein, but clearly something is off.

Ted and I also sample a few local veg joints. At the first, we try vegan pizza (read: no cheese) and a dense, tomato-saucy pasta. At the second, we feast on Thai curry and stir-fry, both starring tofu. “Best Thai I've had in the city,” Ted declares.

Good thing, too, because he’s off to a rougher start than I am. He suffered a major blow on morning 2 when he realized his favorite meat alternative, MorningStar Farms Sausage Links, contain eggs and therefore couldn't shepherd him through the month. “Vegetarians always ask if you’d be willing to kill your own meat,” he mused. “I’d say, hell yes! Right now, I’d wrestle a deer to the ground and stab it to death with its own antler.”

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Living la vida vegan: My month of saying good-bye to delicious animals

carrot-plate
ayngelina

I’ve only been a vegan for 12 hours, and already I’m running into trouble.

There’s the honey, for one thing -- lurking in my breakfast cereal (ingredient No. 3) first thing in the morning. And then glycerin, an ingredient I’ve never before considered threatening, in my midmorning trail mix. (Simply Almonds, Cashews, and Mango, Trader Joe’s? Ha! Not quite.) Turns out the stuff may or may not be animal-derived, and there’s no easy way to check. Who knew? Surely my all-time-favorite, five-ingredient crackers would be a good substitute … Dammit, honey again.

“We have to go to the store again. I can’t eat any of my snacks after all,” I complained to my fiancé, Ted. “Honey is in everything.”

“Is honey seriously out?” he asked, incredulous. “It’s animal throw-up! The bees don’t even want it!”

But it’s a little early to start rationalizing. We’ve just begun our month-long vegan experiment, and I want to get started on the right foot. (I’m proud to report that I had oatmeal instead of cereal for breakfast, and plain old almonds subbed for that trail mix nicely.)

Why go vegan at all? Well, to be honest, I’m curious.

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Smooth move: How to apartment hop without harshing the planet’s mellow

moving-day
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Moving is so much fun, except for the part where you actually pack all your crap into boxes and move. I’m not sure you can beat its potent combination of stress, mess, and backbreaking toil outside of a prison hard-labor crew, and even those guys can find where they packed their pants at the end of the day.

And then there’s the waste. With all the cardboard boxes, Styrofoam packing peanuts, plastic bags, and transport trips involved, you can certainly add trash-producing and gas-guzzling to moving’s list of charms.

So what’s a green-minded relocator to do? I asked myself this question last week as I stared down the barrel of my impending move across town. My boyfriend, Ted, and I were headed to a nearby apartment (1.5 miles away, to be exact), and we didn't have much time to prep -- just a few weeks, and busy weeks at that. But we wanted to try for the most earth-friendly, least wasteful move possible.

While plotting the move, we identified three major offenders on the green front: packing materials, transport, and unnecessary trash. Then we set goals to attack each one. Here’s our plan -- and how it all went down in reality.

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Drop the hammer: How to botch a simple DIY gardening project – and find a better way

woman with hammer and nail
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I’ve got the home improvement bug. See, we’re moving -- nothing major, just across town -- but our new place finally boasts some shared garden space in the backyard. After years of yearning for an outlet for my green thumb, I’ll finally be able to dig into the soil and call forth a cornucopia of vegetables. In fact, I thought, why don’t I celebrate my first real garden with a nice building project?

I’m not much of a carpenter, true. But isn’t that what community is for? Seattle has several tool libraries where you can borrow drills and saws and all kinds of stuff more immediately recognizable to me as horror-movie torture devices than whatever they’re actually meant to be. And this town is bursting with eco-friendly gardeners. Surely someone can give me some tips. I can totally build something cool -- I just need to pick a project.

Luckily, I discovered just the ticket: a volunteer-led, community-based skills workshop right here in town. Among tutorials as diverse as soapmaking, backyard goat care, and mushroom cultivation, I found the perfect class: how to build a cold frame from recycled materials. A cold frame, for those of you who don’t know, is kind of like a mini greenhouse -- a glass-topped, open-bottom box that shelters tender seedlings or allows you to start cold-tolerant plants, like cabbage or kale, early in the season.

A DIY garden accessory! Recycled! Perfect! So last weekend, I attended the workshop, taught by a local farmer who wore an air of assured experience in organic plant cultivation and a hemp necklace. After witnessing him whip up the cold frame in less than an hour, I’d like to pass along the lessons I learned. (Actual results may vary.)

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Dirty laundry: How long can one woman go without washing her clothes?

dirty socks
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Recently, a friend of mine raised the kind of question that stops you in your tracks, opens your eyes, and makes you take a good, hard look at life as you know it -- a question that poses a fundamental challenge to values that date all the way back to childhood. Namely: How often do you really need to wash your clothes?

She was specifically concerned about her 2-year-old’s seemingly sparkly clean T-shirts. “There are days when his entire outfit is spotless,” she mused. “I feel weird putting it in the washer, but then I wonder if I’m being a negligent mom.”

Huh. Before this illuminating question, I confess I hadn’t really thought about it. Of course you wash most of your stuff after wearing it, right? Otherwise it’s gross ... right? Dirty? I mean, “the great unwashed” is not a compliment.

But then again, who says I do need to launder my '90s-era No Doubt Tragic Kingdom tour T-shirt after just one afternoon sitting at a desk? Could some kind of detergent mafia be operating in the shadows of my laundry room right this minute?

If I’ve learned anything as the Greenie Pig, it’s that assumptions -- that you need shampoo, say, or that there’s something wrong with enjoying a donut straight from the trash -- should always be challenged. So I set out to find out just how many wearings my apparel could stand, and, by proxy, how much water and energy I could save by delaying the spin cycle.

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Glam locks: The not-so-secret secret to naturally gorgeous hair

Now these folks knew how to sell some shampoo. Click to embiggen.
Now these folks knew how to sell some shampoo. Click to embiggen.

Dear treehugging friends: If only you guys had an ounce of marketing savvy. You could have tuned me into a green practice, plus saved me years of too-flat, uninspiring hair, and buckets of cash to boot. I know some of you have been washing your hair with baking soda and finishing it with a vinegar rinse for years, yet the only pitch I’ve ever heard on this practice is a limp, “It’s good for the environment!” Well, next time, try this instead:

Want to know the secret to shiny, voluminous, all-around gorgeous hair? It’s a specially formulated treatment guaranteed to take your coif to entirely new levels of excellence. We’re talking cascading waves of Penelope Cruz-level excellence. Try the BSV Treatment -- you’d pay upwards of $20 for it at a salon -- and see for yourself.

That’s a little more like it, eh? If I’d heard that, I wouldn’t have brushed off the idea of baking soda-vinegaring my hair so easily. The reasoning is sound: desire to avoid the chemicals packed into everyday commercial toiletries*, reduce plastic-bottle purchases, and old-fashioned thriftiness. Still, to a populace raised on the importance of lather-rinse-repeat, it sounds weird. When an old friend from grad school mentioned over lunch that lately she’d been cleansing with nothing but the baking soda-vinegar combo, I thought, What a nut. What’s next, homemade lemon-juice deodorant? Except her hair did look pretty sleek and luxurious.

So when I ran across yet another reference to the BSV hair-care regimen in a book about ecologically friendly home practices, I knew I had to try it. Advocates swear that baking soda naturally strips oil, softens, and removes weird buildup from whatever other crap you’ve been putting in your hair. The vinegar rinse is credited with adding shine, detangling, and clarifying. I’ve already learned firsthand about the magic that good old sodium bicarbonate can work on your kitchen counter and laundry basket. Why not on my head, too?

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The Greenie Pig’s guide to a cleaner, more sustainable 2013

If you're gonna go green, you might as well have some fun with it.
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If you're gonna go green, you might as well have some fun with it.

Each year, the New Year’s holiday brings us more than just a gingerbread hangover and a metric ton of empty champagne bottles -- it serves up a natural opportunity to pause and take stock of our lives. It’s that special time of year when we look back at where we've been and make plans for a brighter future. And it’s no different for the Greenie Pig.

You see, I've learned a thing or two from this year’s worth of green living challenges -- lessons that I've boiled down into five simple guidelines for a cleaner, more sustainable 2013. I think they’ll help me as I embark on another year of eco-experimentation -- and I hope they’ll help you on your own green lifestyle quests.

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Tales of a crafty Christmas

She knew that invited her boyfriend to the family Christmas party was risky, but just how risky she couldn't have known...
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She knew that inviting her boyfriend to the family Christmas party was risky ...

Every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, my extended family has gathered ’round the tree for a grab bag gift exchange. And every year, competition for the year’s hottest items -- garlic choppers, wine glasses, tasteful volumes of nude art photography -- is fierce. In a cheerful nod to the season of selflessness and giving, when your turn comes up you can either open a new present or steal an opened one from someone else.

This year was no different, save one twist: This year, we’d decided, all the gifts would be homemade. Because aren’t gifts that involved someone accidentally bashing his thumb with a hammer just that much more meaningful?

Curiosity had reached fever pitch by the time we circled up last Monday night, rum punch in hand. Would this handmade decree bear fruit in the form of 12 packages of Christmas fudge -- an easy-to-make option for pretty much everyone? Or would my relatives, inspired by this new challenge, reveal hidden talents and reach a level of DIY glory heretofore only seen in Martha Stewart publications?

Given the evidence at hand -- some of the gifts piled in the center of our circle were impressively big and bulky -- I suspected we all might be in for a treat. But I had no idea just how amazing it would be.

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