Taste Test: Teaism

When I decided what to write about this month, I thought that reviewing a new restaurant or coffee shop in the city would be both fun and a good incentive to get out and explore. For this post, I decided to visit Teaism.

Teaism is described on Google Maps as a “relaxed space for tea & Asian-style eats.” There are a few locations in the city. I had actually been to one for lunch several years ago, but couldn’t remember much about it, so I thought I’d visit a different location and try it out again near Dupont Circle.

First of all, it was an adorable townhouse-style place. It was pretty crowded when I got there, and it was not a typical meal time either (I think I got there around 3 pm). Seating downstairs was somewhat limited, but they did appear to have a second level, which I did not get the chance to explore. I liked the casual setting; customers order at the counter and then wait until their number is called.

The menu (which you can find here for the location I visited) was varied and interesting, and I think the prices were reasonable for a “treat yourself” kind of meal. (It wasn’t extremely expensive, but I maybe wouldn’t go there every single day for lunch.)

I loved how they had options for both vegans and non-vegans; that is sometimes difficult to find, and I think it is a good way to introduce non-vegans to plant-based recipes that they might actually like without requiring them to take the initiative to visit a completely vegan restaurant.

I ended up going with the vegan cheeseburger; since it appears to be the signature vegan item on their menu, I wanted to try it out and see how that was. It came with a side of broccoli with sumac vinaigrette. I thought the cheeseburger was great. Whatever cheese they used (Chao, perhaps?) was a really good imitation cheese. The burger did not taste identical to a beef burger (although there are some really good imitation burgers out there nowadays!)– it was just a veggie burger that was made with beets and Tempeh. I did think it was delicious! But not the kind of thing you see as a “substitute” for a regular burger, more of an alternative. The broccoli was actually one of the most interesting things I have tried in a long time, which is funny considering how simple it was. Perhaps I just haven’t tried this type of vinaigrette before, but it had a very vibrant and fresh flavor while simultaneously seeming to lack flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I would totally order it again. It was good, in a weird way.

Usually around this time of day, I would go for an iced coffee beverage. I suffer from horrible afternoon slumps. However, this time I decided to try tea. Obviously. I went with their iced matcha sweet green tea, which I also thought was great. I’ve tried a lot of not so good matcha teas, but theirs was lovely, which I guess is to be expected! I also enjoyed the cute little green garden with benches in front of the restaurant.

Overall, I would definitely visit Teaism again. Maybe I would try a different location, as the menus seem to vary. I would also be interested to try many of their sides, or possibly breakfast.

Although I ordered food during my visit to get the full experience, I think this would also be a nice place to visit if you like the coffee shop vibe while doing some work on the computer or writing! I could certainly see myself spending hours there and trying several of the hot teas.

Have you been to Teaism before? Also, does this “taste test” concept interest you? Let me know, and if so I will be sure to make it a series on my blog!

-AK

Staples for a vegan diet

Today’s post was supposed to be about how I stay organized but, ironically, I am a day behind (on my own challenge…). I thought since I am currently juggling many of my own projects at once, plus my actual work, I should review my organization routine closer to the end of this challenge, when maybe I’ll have some new light to shed on the topic. Plus, I have to catch up on yesterday’s post: staples for a vegan diet! AKA, foods I always have in my kitchen.

When it comes to fruits, vegetables, and other fresh food, I usually base my purchases on the recipes I plan to make that week. I also try to switch this up, just to get some variety in my diet. But these are some items that I almost always have.

The obvious: (to me anyway) — I always have grains and canned goods like rice, pasta, beans, quinoa, oatmeal, etc.

Fruits and vegetables: so I don’t just buy random fruits and vegetables when I go to the store and hope that I’ll use them; I am almost sure I would waste them that way. But, outside of planned recipes, there are a few things I usually have on hand: bananas, maybe dates (since they last a while), frozen strawberries, spinach, and frozen mixed vegetables.

The random: these are some of the more unique items that, while others may never purchase them at all, I am unsure if I could make it through the day without.

  • Stevia: the relation to the vegan diet is basically that white refined sugar is often not vegan (it can be processed with bone char), but I choose it instead of other alternatives because I like it and think it’s more natural than some others. I drink a lot of coffee and tend to bake or make other things requiring sweetener, so I always need stevia!
  • Silk soy creamer: I’ve tried many dairy-free creamers, and this one has to be my favorite. I used to be a big fan of the vanilla Coffee Mate creamer (if I did choose to taint my black coffee with any kind of cream), and I think the vanilla silk creamer is a decent alternative. The hazelnut flavor is always nice.
  • Almond milk: another thing I use in almost everything, or just drink on its own. I usually prefer it to other kinds of milk alternatives.
  • Nutritional yeast: if you haven’t heard of it, it is basically a type of yeast that adds a cheesy/ nutty flavor to foods. I really like it, but many people think it is completely disgusting, so I might be alone on this one…
  • Proteins: I always have some kind of protein, such as tofu, tempeh, or a meat alternative on hand.
  • Nuts/ Lara Bars/ other to-go snacks: sometimes, despite my best planning, my meal prep options don’t work out or I have a long day away from home and need something to bring with me. I like nuts and Lara Bars because they are calorically dense so I don’t need to bring a lot of them with me in order to have a healthy snack later in the day.
  • A billion spices: while everybody’s cabinet would probably ideally be stocked with spices, it doesn’t always work out that way. However, a vegan diet would be quite boring without an abundance of spices (to me, anyway) because that is where most of the flavor comes from in vegan food. Spices are the variety of life. Wait, I don’t think that’s how that goes…
  • Sriracha: like the spices, it makes some otherwise bland foods bearable or even great! I usually have many sauces for that same purpose.
  • Coconut aminos: similarly, I use these for added flavor, although I also use it sometimes for stir fry or even to replace soy sauce.
  • Coconut oil: while we are on the topic of coconuts, I should mention coconut oil, which is known on Twitter for being used for literally everything so it should be no surprise that I have it in my kitchen at all times.
  • Lemons: one thing that is oddly difficult to find is vegan salad dressings. Plus, who wants 174833298 bottles of salad dressing laying around when you could just make your own? Mixing lemon juice with some other ingredients (tahini + nutritional yeast, or olive oil, etc) can be a great alternative! On the other hand, they’re great to have in case you want to add lemons to your water, tea, etc.
  • Apple cider vinegar: this is usually my vinegar of choice for dressings and many recipes, but I also sometimes mix it in with water, stevia, and some cinnamon for a tangy drink in the morning that is supposed to be good for your digestion, among other things.
  • Popcorn: when I was a kid, I came home from school every day and ate popcorn. Now I tend to do more of an Olivia Pope thing where I eat popcorn for dinner with some wine… *shrugs*

What do you keep in your kitchen at all times — anything unusual?

-AK

The economics of veganism: eradicating perfectionism

***Quick update (7/26) — one of my favorite vegan YouTubers, Kalel, just uploaded a video about this! If you are interested in the topic, please check it out to hear another perspective!***

If you’ve glanced at my blog, you probably know that I am pretty passionate about living a plant-based lifestyle. But, that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. It doesn’t mean I never crave wings or wish I could just order a regular Domino’s pizza or that I no longer own any leather or non-vegan beauty products. It doesn’t mean I have been 100% vegan ever since the day I decided I wanted to be. It just means that I try, and today I wanted to write about why simply trying is enough. Warning: this is going to be a long one.

I ate cheese two days ago.

Yes I did. I accidentally ordered the nachos instead of the vegan nachos at Busboys and Poets (one of the best restaurants for plant-based options, FYI). Why am I telling you this? Well since it is a sin, I have to confess. Kidding. I’m making a point. I mean, I scraped the cheese off, because when you don’t eat dairy for a while and then you do, it’s kind of a disaster for your stomach. But that’s not my point.

When I first went vegan, I thought that I had to completely avoid all animal products, not only from an ethical perspective but also to maintain some kind of purity. I was afraid that if I accidentally ate something with dairy or certain derivatives in it, I would no longer be vegan and I would have to give up on this entire journey because I would be a hypocrite. This is a common mindset that many people new to a plant-based lifestyle adopt. When you first internalize the reality of the cruelty and harm caused by the meat and dairy industries, it is hard to moderate your views. It is natural to feel very strongly about things, which often causes people to adopt some pretty extreme views.

However, that kind of mindset is emotionally exhausting, and is only sustainable for so long before you have to find a way to reconcile the two separate realities you’re faced with. One: you know that the meat and dairy industries are unnecessarily harmful, you feel passionate about it, and you want to do whatever you can to help rid the world of this problem. You are proud of yourself for educating yourself about the topic, working through your own cognitive dissonance, and taking the actionable steps to live a life that aligns with what you know to be right in your heart. Two: the world hasn’t been on this same journey with you. The people around you haven’t seen the documentaries or read about the consequences of their actions. The world– restaurants, cafes, parties, visiting friends, etc– is not friendly to vegans. Even if there is an option for you as a vegan, you need to exercise so much self-discipline to maintain a vegan diet when the food is not the most appealing, PLUS it is discouraging to know that no matter how many extreme changes you have made to your own lifestyle, it barely puts a dent in the problem that everybody around you seems to be contributing to.

So how could anybody feel inspired to make vegan choices under those conditions?

I believe that this topic can be understood very well from an economic perspective. In other words, what rational person would opt for a vegan diet, and how would they pursue it? 

Rationality and Our Choices

Rationality is defined as the “quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic.” In economic terms, rational behavior is “based on making choices that result in the most optimal level of benefit or utility for the individual.” Before this discussion, it is important to understand utility at the most basic level. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, a simple way to think about it, as taught by one of my favorite economics professors, is as a synonym for happiness. When somebody gains utility, they gain happiness.

There are some prerequisites for applying rational behavior expectations to the concept of veganism. Under normal circumstances, it is quite rational for a person not to pursue a vegan diet. Here are some potential reasons why (a far from exhaustive list).

  • Maybe an individual is uninformed about the harms associated with animal agriculture and they see no reason to pursue a vegan diet in the first place
  • Perhaps they are informed, but due to convenience, social stigma, or preference alone, they decide not to change their actions (they do not individually internalize the negative consequences of their actions, so there is no incentive for them personally to change)
  • Maybe an individual is ill-informed about the topic in general. Perhaps they heard somebody erroneously say that being vegan is more expensive, that it could hurt their health, etc.
  • Perhaps a person rationalizes the consumption of animals and their by-products through religious justifications
  • They see their friends make fun of vegans and they don’t want to be ostracized in a similar way. Put more simply, maybe they just don’t want to be different
  • They have had personal encounters with aggressive or rude people who follow a vegan lifestyle, and they don’t want to be associated with that
  • Maybe they just like meat and dairy products, and don’t want to change

On the other hand, here are some reasons why a person might rationally pursue a vegan lifestyle. It goes without saying that not all of these need apply in order for veganism to emerge as the rational option for somebody. Whether a person subscribes to one or more of these reasons depends upon their individual preferences and priorities.

  • They hope to benefit from improved health outcomes or weight loss
  • They care a lot about the environment, and they know that following a vegan diet is better for the environment, so they gain a lot of utility from doing so
  • They feel morally superior to others for doing so
  • They were raised vegan and meat and dairy never appealed to them in the first place
  • They learned about the process in which meat and dairy products make it to their kitchen, and were emotionally repulsed by participation in that industry

I’m not casting any judgment on people who subscribe to any of the above reasons for their course of action. This is purely a discussion of why people may act the way they do.

It should be noted that although rationality provides a useful basis for making projections about human behavior, people do not always act rationally. Therefore, people may irrationally choose to or not to follow a vegan lifestyle, and none of the above explanations would apply in such a case. It should also be noted, however, that what we consider to be rational often does not align with what we consider to be moral, just, or “right”– a topic for another day.

In Practice

This is where I tell you why it doesn’t matter that I ate cheese. In fact, here is a list of the non-vegan things that I have consumed since I decided in June of 2016 that I wanted to begin following a vegan lifestyle. Chicken, fish, cheese, yogurt, various dressings, trace ingredients in candy and packaged food… Probably more that I can’t remember. Most of these were one-time instances, and I can talk more in a future post about why there were lapses in my veganism (for suspected health problems) if that is of interest to people. Here, I’m just interested in discussing why I still confidently follow this lifestyle even though I’ve already proven to do so imperfectly. In short, it comes down to supply and demand.

 

This is an oversimplification, but it should help those unfamiliar with economics to understand, at the most basic level, the impact of a vegan diet when pursued both by individuals and/or by society at large. I will discuss how supply and demand interact, with an emphasis on the market for non-vegan goods, from three perspectives: understanding the market for an individual good, understanding the impact of the choices of one individual, and understanding changes in the market overall.

An individual good. 

Let’s take milk as an example. In the diagram above, D1 represents the quantity of milk demanded by consumers at various price levels. S represents the supply of milk, or how much milk producers are willing to provide at various price levels. Where S and D1 meet is “equilibrium,” or the amount of milk that we actually expect to be purchased by customers/ sold by producers, and the relevant price.

If demand for milk decreases among consumers, the demand line will shift to the left — to D2. In this situation, the amount of milk that people want (the quantity demanded) is lower than what it originally was. At the same time, the price decreases. Here, we can simply see that if demand for milk decreases (if fewer consumers choose to purchase milk), less milk will be exchanged. Rather than thinking only about the immediate impact — e.g., wasting some milk that has already been produced — we also need to consider the likely long-term impact of this kind of trend, which is a shift in supply. This would mean that supply would decrease in the future to meet the appropriate demand, as producers do not want to waste resources producing an item that doesn’t get sold.

Actions of an individual person.

If I, as an individual person, want to make a positive change by pursuing more “vegan” actions, how should I go about it? The most important thing to do is to decrease one’s consumption of the big things. Meat, dairy, eggs, etc. Knowing what we now know about the interaction of supply and demand for milk, we can apply this to understand the impact of an individual focusing on decreasing their consumption of milk, for example, versus completely eliminating the consumption of any kind of ingredient derived from animal products.

Here I will introduce another example: Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries. (Let’s ignore the honey factor for now, as that is a subject of controversy in and of itself.) I have loved this cereal since I was a child. I was VERY DISTRAUGHT when I learned that it contained whey, a derivative of milk, after I decided to go vegan. I was faced with the decision: should I stop consuming the cereal? After all, consuming the cereal would not be a vegan thing to do if it contained a non-vegan ingredient.

I had obviously already stopped consuming milk, but at this point I also stopped buying Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries. If it were today, I would just buy the cereal. And here’s why. Making incremental changes to decrease suffering is what’s most important, and eliminating my consumption of milk was a much more significant step in decreasing my contributions to the demand for dairy products than the occasional box of Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries would ever be. This isn’t an excuse to purchase just anything that isn’t vegan. But in this case, there is obviously a line between trying to make a positive impact and, on the other hand, depriving oneself of a food with minimal amounts of trace ingredients in a martyr-like manner, simply to be able to say that one is vegan. Promoting this kind of thinking is a significant reason why many people choose not to go vegan. Instead of advocating for people to cut out products like this, we should be focusing on the big things.

Something to note that I think is completely overlooked by many members of the vegan community, is, again, the long-term impact of our actions. We can use the principle of aggregation to think about this abstractly. If everybody were to stop consuming Honey Bunches of Oats today, and never bought the cereal again, would it make a positive impact in terms of veganism? A little yes, but mostly no. It would marginally decrease the consumption of one product associated with animal agriculture, just as would be the case if we stopped eating malted milk balls. But, it doesn’t signal to producers that animal agriculture is what we are “fighting against” — instead it just makes the statement that, as consumers, we don’t want Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries anymore. Let’s avoid this — not only because it doesn’t help the vegan cause, but because Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries is a very fine cereal and I would hate to see it go.

Actions of society in the aggregate and the resultant changes in the market.

This is where we get into the big picture thinking. If you can, think about the graph above as a depiction of the demand and supply for all animal products in the world. Any shift from D1 closer to D2 indicates good things: less harm to the environment, lower consumption of foods with known association to health problems, and, most importantly to me, less suffering overall. If we think about the entire global market for food, an imperceptible shift downward in demand, and later in supply, for animal products, is a positive thing. Why anybody would encourage perfectionism over small positive changes, when those changes in the aggregate would lead to at least some lives saved and less suffering, is beyond me.

So in short, if what you are after is purity, or the ability to label yourself as 100% vegan, then sure… Avoid those trace ingredients in candy, cereals, etc. If what you’re after is effecting positive change, causing less suffering, and doing so in a way that is sustainable for your lifestyle, then consider actionable steps you can take to do so without regard to the “label” for your choices. Can you do Almond or Soy milk instead of dairy milk? Can you eat vegetarian for one day out of the week? Can you replace your chicken with tofu occasionally? Any and all of these options are great steps toward positive change.

What does this mean?

The good thing about this is that if you feel compelled to follow a plant-based diet or a vegan lifestyle, all you need to do is try your best. By cutting out the major contributors to animal agriculture, like meat and dairy products, you are already making a significant positive impact. What some might see as a downside is that, knowing this, you really have no excuse not to make better choices. There are, of course, instances in which strict veganism is not possible– for example, if one lives in a food desert or perhaps has certain health problems. (In reality I haven’t heard of any health issues that do interfere with following a vegan diet, or at least minimizing one’s consumption of certain ingredients, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt.)

But, one excuse that nobody should use is that of being unable to be a perfect vegan. You do not have to be a perfect vegan to make a positive impact, and any incremental change that you can make to decrease harm to animals and promote a healthier self and environment is amazing.

If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and please share any tips you have for striking a balance between promoting positive changes and maintaining a sustainable lifestyle!

Alex

Comforting Carrot Coconut Curry

Take any recipe post from me with a grain of salt (actually, this recipe doesn’t really require added salt, but, ya know)… My whole family has always regarded me as the person who would need a personal chef, due to my lack of cooking skills and my lack of desire to learn.

However, now that I’ve been cooking for myself full-time the past several months, I’m actually growing to really enjoy it. Perhaps it’s in my blood… Both of my parents have spent much of their adult lives working with food. I find cooking to be a calming, meditative activity, but one that also makes me feel productive.

This week, for dinner, I made something in between a curry and a soup with carrots fresh from the farmers market (thanks to my thoughtful boyfriend). It is as good today as it was when I made it on Sunday. Plus, there’s nothing better than soup, particularly if it is a little spicy, to help kick out the in-between-season cold with which I had begun to cross paths…  So I thought I’d share!

This recipe was made in the slow cooker, but I’m sure it could be adapted to cook on the stove top as well.

Ingredients:
-2 teaspoons curry powder
-2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
-1 red onion
-2 lbs carrots (baby carrots work, or chopped large carrots)
-1 large sweet potato
-4 cups vegetable stock (no added sodium if you’re not a salty person)
-14 oz (about 1 can) light coconut milk

-salt if you are a salty person

Instructions:

1. Chop onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots (if using regular sized carrots) into approximately bite-size pieces
2. Place onions, carrots, sweet potato, fresh ginger, and curry powder in slow cooker. Then add vegetable stock.
3. Cook on high for around 8 hours, or until vegetables are soft
4. Add salt or additional spices of desired.
5. Stir in coconut milk while still hot

It’s so easy! I’ve tried adding nutritional yeast to this (for more of a creamy/ chowdery flavor) and that worked well, IMO. This would also be good with some type of coconut garnish on top. You could also add chick peas or quinoa for additional protein. I recommend eating it with rice or some sort of bread.

Enjoy!

-AK

Don’t think eating meat is wrong? 3 reasons why you should still cut back.

Many vegans adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle for ethical reasons. While I fall into this category, I recognize that it is impossible to force others to share your moral viewpoints. Also, framing the issue as a moral decision actually does a disservice to the cause of veganism. If the idea that “eating meat/ dairy is wrong” does not resonate with somebody’s own ethical code, then framing the issue this way closes people’s minds to the other ways in which their actions are significant. While I personally could talk for hours about the philosophical question of whether it is “wrong” to unnecessarily harm sentient beings, there are factors that hinder this approach from being wholly effective. People’s core beliefs are influenced by things like their family and personal background, their culture, religion, their environment, and more. Unfortunately, those who are passionate about this issue cannot control all of the aforementioned factors. However, what we can do is provide the facts, particularly since ethics are only one of many reasons why somebody should/could/would go vegan.

Although ethics are debatable, these facts are generally not. I hope the following information inspires you to reduce your consumption of animal products, even if you are not ready to commit to eliminating them entirely!

  1. Environmental impact:
    In case it isn’t obvious, it takes far more resources to feed and sustain livestock, which will then be used as food, than it would to feed people the plant products directly. Yet, over 2/3 of all agricultural land is devoted to feeding livestock, while only 8% is used to grow food for direct human consumption.Studies have shown that animal agriculture contributes significantly to water use, pollution, and land use, as well as harming our oceans.

    Here is a quote from The Guardian, citing research led by Professor Gidon Eshel, at Bard College in New York state:”

    meatfacts

    Additionally, Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment cites that livestock production comprises 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Since greenhouse gas emissions and climate change go hand-in-hand, this link is not good news. And, we in America are the biggest contributor; the article states that if everybody on Earth were to consume as much meat as we do, the amount of land required for agricultural production would increase by two thirds.

    Oh, and if you think eating more “humane” meat (i.e. “free range,” “grass-fed” etc.) is a better idea? Think again; it comes with an even higher environmental cost. Did you know that if we were to raise all cows on grass, cattle would use about half of the country’s land– plus they emit more methane than grain fed cows? That “pastured organic chickens” have a 20% larger impact on global warming? That nutrients from the interruption of the life cycle of animals land in our water systems, a major contributor to pollution? Unfortunately, there’s no way around the environmental degradation that accompanies animal agriculture, besides reducing the need for it.
    .

  2. Health benefits of a vegetarian diet: 
    In general, studies have shown that becoming a vegetarian reduces one’s risk for heart disease, cancer (processed meat is a Group 1 carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization- the same as cigarettes!), type 2 diabetes, and obesity.Here is some information from Harvard Health Publications:

    meatfacts2

    And did you know that cholesterol is only found in animal products? So, vegetarians tend to have healthier cholesterol levels than meat eaters, and vegans have some of the healthiest cholesterol levels, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Their bodies produce the amount that they need and they do not consume any more through their diet. Yes, cholesterol is only one facet of health, but high cholesterol leads to health risks such as heart attacks, clogged arteries, gallstones and digestive pain, and more.
    .

  3. Save money! Don’t let the overprocessed,  overpriced, specialty vegan foods fool you; a vegan diet is cheaper than the standard omnivore’s diet, not more expensive, if properly planned. (Don’t get me wrong, I do love Gardein ❤ but products like these are not necessary for a healthy vegetarian diet.) I often hear the argument that “being a vegetarian/vegan is a luxury that only the privileged can afford.” This is simply untrue. And don’t just take it from me: you can find more information and anecdotes from a variety of perspectives here, here, here, here, here, and here. Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find a bunch more. Or go to the grocery store and shop in just the produce section, instead of whatever your usual list includes; you might be pleasantly surprised. 😉

It’s pretty easy to maintain a “SAD” (Standard American Diet) lifestyle when it feels like a personal choice, based entirely on preference and what tastes good. But when presented with information about how it impacts the environment, your health, and your wallet, is it still all about preferences? The choices that you make impact the people and world around you more than you might have realized, and it is your purchasing power that determines the success of the industry.

Hopefully this information provides you with the motivation to do some research of your own and make choices that are aligned with the contribution you desire to make on this planet. If there are reasons that you don’t feel inclined to change your habits and begin to consume fewer animal products, I would love for you to comment below and start a discussion!

-AK