Monday, October 31, 2011

Texas State Veggie Fair, Take Two!

Who: VN contributor Eddie Garza
What: 2nd Annual Texas State Veggie Fair
When: October 23, 2011
Where: Dallas, Texas
Why: To bask in vegan fried goodness deep in the heart of Texas

The Scoop: Jamey Scott of Dallas Vegan is obsessed with fried foods. He’s a native Texan. And like most Texans, Scott grew up anticipating each year’s state fair, where he would relish in deep fried comfort foods of Texas-sized proportions.

That is, until he went vegan.

At the State Fair of Texas, typical foods found are fried bacon, fried butter, fried bubblegum, I could go on. You’ll also find penned-up piglets waiting to be auctioned. Scott’s retort: parody the country’s largest state fair by hosting an all-vegan version just blocks away.

The Texas State Veggie Fair falls on the heels of its ugly step-cousin, the State Fair of Texas, but you won’t find any farmed animals here. Instead, they’ve corralled a host of animal-advocacy and rescue groups, renowned speakers in the animal rights movement and vegan chefs, mixed in with traditional state fair foods and entertainment. “The fair is an opportunity for people to enjoy a fun and festive experience without supporting animal agribusiness,” says Scott.

That fun includes a vegan fried foods competition, with a panel of judges comprised of some of Dallas’ top food journalists, and two winners taking home sizable cash prizes. Sabali Mpozi Earth of Vegan Comfort from Houston took this year’s “Best Tasting” award for fried spicy chicken-less strips, and Arlington home chef Meredith Whitley’s fried banana pudding snagged “Most Creative” nods.

 The fried-food challenge winner: spicy strips!

Fairgrounds were lined with over a dozen vegan food vendors serving a lip-smacking spread of fair faves including caramel apples, Frito pie, fried pizza, fried pickles, corny dogs, and coconut ice cream sundaes. Clowns, jugglers, and alt-country rockers kept crowds entertained as they waited in hour-long lines for vegan fried foods.

Bravo to the incredibly creative crew at Dallas Vegan for hosting another successful, inspiring and imaginative event!

Photos courtesy of Sylvia Elzafon

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vegucated Dessert After-Party Hosted by VegNews

Who: VegNews Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: The Vegucated After-Party
When: October 25, 2011
Where: The VNHQ in San Francisco
Why: To toast the new film, Vegucated, following its San Francisco premiere

The Scoop: Here at VegNews, we love throwing parties. Delicious vegan nibbles, a little Champagne, some great music, and excellent guests always make for an unforgettable evening. And now that we've finished zhooshing up our rooftop deck and event space at our Mission District offices, we can hardly wait to play host to many a future vegan soirée.

After welcoming Vaute Couture and its vegan fashion pop-up show in September, the sisters behind Spork Foods and their brand-new vegan cookbook in October, we were beyond excited to host the dessert after-party for Vegucated's San Francisco premiere in November. It was a packed house at the nearby Victoria Theatre for the 7pm screening, followed by a Q & A with the film's Creator/Director Marisa Miller Wolfson, Producer Demetrius Bagley, and star Brian Flegel. If you haven't yet seen this movie, look for a local screening or order a copy on DVD. According to our editorial team in the current edition of VegNews, "Vegucated is a fast-paced, fact-filled, and often hilarious feature-length documentary that's equal parts Saturday Night Live skit and educational tool." In short, it's entertaining, enlightening, and an amazing force to promote a plant-based lifestyle. Check it out!

But let's get back to the after-party. It was a balmy evening in San Francisco and the rooftop deck was softly lit (candles) and perfectly toasty (heat lamps). The dessert spread from Obsessive Confection Disorder alone was worth the cost of admission (decadent brownies! German chocolate caramels! Apple cider candies!), but the 100+ guests also enjoyed Turtle Mountain's coconut ice cream, mint chocolate coconut milk, and the seasonal coconut soy nog. For two hours, people nibbled and mingled before listening to a lovely speech by Marisa about the film. It was an honor to support this groundbreaking documentary, and we look forward to watching it take over the country. For more details, check out the film's website, and the full screening schedule can be found here. Here's to getting Vegucated!

Vegucated's Director, Marisa Miller Wolfson and the film's Producer, Demetrius Bagley, show off their feature in the November+December issue of VegNews at the VNHQ.

Hearty Vegan Brunch and Burgers & Beers Benefit

Who: VN Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
What: A Hearty Vegan Brunch with VN staff and a Burgers & Beers Benefit
Where: San Francisco and Berkeley, CA
When: Sunday, October 23, 2011
Why: A glorious day of eating awesome vegan food

The Scoop: When the cookbook Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites by Joni Marie Newman & Celine Steen arrived at the VNHQ for review, we were floored by the hunger-inducing food. Tater Tot Surprise, Cinnamon Swirl Bread, and Coconut Crème Brûlée Baked Oatmeal were just a few recipes we were drooling over. So VN Assistant Editor Anna Peraino and I organized a staff-wide potluck based on our favorite brunch dishes from the cookbook. We, after all, have monster appetites. Here is our hearty menu:

VN Hearty Vegan Brunch Menu
Banana Split Waffles
Tater Tot Surprise
Coconut Crème Brûlée Baked Oatmeal
Cappuccino Muffins
Atella Rolls
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches*
Morning Mimosas*
*not featured in the cookbook

My brunch plate from top:
Tater Tot Surprise, Grilled Cheese, Banana Split Waffles, Atella Roll,
Coconut Crème Brûlée Baked Oatmeal, Cappuccino Muffin (center).

It was a beautiful and sunny day in Noe Valley where Anna, our host, lives. We piled our plates high with all the goodies we had prepared. Associate Publisher Colleen Holland made the Banana Split Waffles fresh and piping hot from the waffle iron while my husband, Brendan Hay, made his signature Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, the only recipe not from the cookbook, but a VN staff favorite. I savored every bite and when my very full plate (see above) was empty, I was ready for a hearty nap on Anna's couch. We were impressed with every single dish, and even made a non-vegan a believer in the power of vegan grilled cheese sandwiches (score!).

Joni Sweet and Lyndsay Orwig enjoying brunch.

After the brunch, I squeezed in a dog date at the Presidio with Art Director Sutton Long and her pup, Chloe, and my pup, Buddy, to walk off the billions of calories I had consumed. Believe it or not, then I headed to Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley to partake of vegan burgers and beers. Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary hosted a fundraiser at the brewery and I love any event where I can eat and support animals in need. Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary cares for abused farm and domestic animals and assists local humane societies and rescue groups.

What's better than vegan burgers and beers? Nothing.

It was a great event, and Brendan and I shared a brew while chatting about all the amazing vegan food we ate.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

12th Annual Brower Youth Awards

Who: Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Brower Youth Awards
Where: Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
When: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Why: Skateboards and Girl Scout Cookies

The Scoop: At the podium, 2011 Brower Youth Award recipient Alex Epstein dedicated his words "to the young people in the room." Alex is 20.

It gets better.

Of the hundred or so fundraisers, awards, dinners, conferences, and other functions I attend each year, the Brower Youth Awards, named in memory of environmental pioneer David Brower, might just be the one I most look forward to. Each year, six BYAs are given to "the most visionary and strategic activists between the ages of 13 to 22." The public awards ceremony—which culminates a week of Bay Area speaking, networking, training, and bonding sessions for these overachieving leaders—is a delightful mix of youthful optimism and untarnished naivete.

The awards bring a tear to the eye and hope for the future. Nothing is more inspiring than young people who believe in themselves, are fearless, and won't take "no" for an answer.

The 2011 Brower Youth Award honorees: Vorva, Tomtishen, Epstein, Pulido, Davila, Walk, and Thiermann

At 14, Epstein co-founded New York 2 New Orleans Coalition, mobilizing 1,500 NYC high school students, via 43 trips, with 9th ward post-Katrina New Orleans' residents. Next was college, where he co-found The Philadelphia Urban Creators, a cadre of young community organizers building relationships with disadvantaged communities. Epstein's motto: "When you have positive energy, good things happen."

Kyle Thiermann isn't your typical Santa Cruz, CA surfer dude. His online video series, Surfing for Change, encourages the multi-billion dollar surfing community to make small adjustments that can add up, including divesting $340 million from coal-funding banks. "Changing the world can be as simple as changing a daily personal decision," advocates 21-year-old Thiermann.

Junior Walk, an anti-strip mining activist from West Virginia, fights big coal in Appalachia with Coal River Mountain Watch. Walk, 21, is an outspoken advocate in a fossil-fuel dependent community, and risks being ostracized, which doesn't deter him from his mission. "Eventually, this will get stopped," Junior says of the environmentally devastating practice of harvesting coal via mountain top removal. "We're gonna be there for the final nail in the coffin."

Tania Pulido, also 21, uses agriculture as a tool to reach out to people. She works with Urban Tilth, a community garden in the food desert of Richmond, CA, a Bay Area city plagued by high crime and environmental racism. Inspired by her fellow awardees to take her activism "to the next level," Tania's words of wisdom include "never give up on yourself," useful for someone also fighting the local Chevron refinery.

Victor Davila went veg two years ago because he wants to live longer. Davila is 17. He started EcoRyders, workshops that combine environmental and health education with skateboarding, in his native Bronx, NY. "I don't have to move out of my neighborhood to make it a better neighborhood; I can make my neighborhood better," one skateboard at a time.

As 11-year-olds, Girl Scouts Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva created Project ORANG—Orangutans Really Appreciate and Need Girl Scouts, cutest acronym ever—when they learned that the cookies they sold contain palm oil from plantations destroying orangutan habitat. Project Orang has been featured in national media, and garnered the pair an audience with the leaders of the Scouts—and a promise by the org to use only sustainable palm oil in the future.

Tomtishen and Vorva, now at the ripe old ages of 15 and 16, respectively, best sum up the spirit and substance of the inspirational BYAs: "We can dream in a way that is not limited by an adult's perspective."

Congratulations to all 2011 BYA recipients on your amazing, encouraging activism.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Michael Pollan and the Food Movement

Who: VegNews Editorial Assistant Joni Sweet 
What: Edible Education 101 class with Michael Pollan 
Where: Wheeler Auditorium, UC Berkeley, California 
When: October 4, 2011 
Why: To hear how corporations are affecting the food movement

Author of The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan
The Scoop: The world is growing, Western diets are poorer than ever, and many people have become dependant on big box stores for their groceries. As part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, national grocers like Wal-Mart agreed this past summer to open new stores or remodel existing ones to help bring more fresh food to food deserts—primarily low-income neighborhoods with little or no access to fresh, healthy food. I was interested in learning more about how corporations are affecting the food movement, so I decided to go a panel discussion on the issue as part of the Chez Panisse Foundation’s Edible Education 101 series of classes at UC Berkeley open to the public. While the classes are continuing every Tuesday throughout the fall semester, this particular panel was made of Jack Sinclair, the executive vice president of Wal-Mart’s food division in the US; Jib Ellison, founder of Blu Skye Strategy Consulting which transforms markets using principles of sustainability; and Michael Pollan, a noted author and professor.

Since Sinclair is responsible for developing Wal-Mart’s overall food and grocery strategy, he was able to tell the audience a lot about how Wal-Mart is working to improve the food crisis. He presented information that shows Wal-Mart’s effort to build relationships with small farmers, offer more organic produce at an affordable price, and how it's working towards its goal of nine percent of all produce sold to be sustainably sourced. Additionally, Sinclair said that Wal-Mart is working on revamping its food nutrition labels to make them more readable. I don’t think many people could argue with the hard numbers Sinclair presented to the audience that backed his claims.

However, what the audience did question was Wal-Mart’s controversial ethical practices regarding workers' compensation and salaries, sourcing standards for products, and extensive stocking of processed foods. Sinclair seemed to respond with stock public relations answers to tough questions, which included asking how Wal-Mart employees are supposed to afford organic food, whether Wal-Mart will put a limit on how profitable it will become, and how it could claim to be providing healthy food, while still stocking the shelves with processed junk food. Sinclair would often reference Wal-Mart’s ethical code and its dependence on its “valued” employees, rather than providing direct answers to such questions. Sinclair also reminded the audience of Wal-Mart’s policy of giving the customer freedom of choice, versus urging them to buy more healthful produce.

Overall, I found the talk quite interesting and engaging. As a big-business skeptic, I have to admit I was impressed with Wal-Mart’s current efforts in improving sustainability measures, healthful food options, and relationships with small, organic farmers. Sinclair said what many have known for some time—that people prefer local food because, in addition to not requiring lots of resources to transport it, the produce also tastes fresher and lasts longer—and that Wal-Mart has been improving relations with local farmers in communities across the US. On the other hand, I feel the audience brought up some very important points that still remain unanswered in a direct way. While Pollan didn’t actually speak much, he did suggest that perhaps labeling chemically laden food should be a requirement, versus the extensive, costly process organic farmers must go through to get the organic certification. Sinclair said the responsibility of that should lay with the government, and not with Wal-Mart.

If you’re interested in these issues, I would recommend watching a video of the lecture or going to one of the upcoming lectures if you’re in the Bay Area. Additionally, if you want to know more about how organizations across the US are working to increase food security, check out Combatting Food Insecurity in the US.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tuesday Night Fine-Dining at Millennium

Who: VegNews Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

What: A VIP dinner with vegan personal chef Rebecca Dienner 
Where: Millennium in San Francisco, Calif.
When: October 4th, 2011
Why: To get the inside scoop on the delicious fall dishes at one of the city's best vegan restaurants.

The Scoop: The first autumn rains of San Francisco touched down this week, meaning that my comfort-seeking winter appetite will soon kick into full effect. I've already started longing for warm, hearty meals instead of the delicate salads that I subsist on for most of the summer in order to stay cool. Thankfully, one of the best vegan restaurants in the country is just a couple of neighborhoods away, and I'm also fortunate enough  to have a couple of friends who work there, holding all of the secrets to the menu's top picks. On a nonchalant Tuesday evening, my dear friend Rebecca—a vegan chef herself—and I frolicked to Millennium for a taste of the finer things in life.

 This is not hokey gnocchi.

We were daunted by the overwhelming appeal of nearly every single thing on the appetizer menu—oscillating between the heirloom tomato and melon salad, the black bean torte with caramelized plantains, and the coriander seed-crusted oyster mushrooms—but my friend Justin, who has worked at Millennium for several years, offered us some real talk by immediately recommending the gnocchi. Not just any gnocchi; this was the Seared Potato Gnocchi with vanilla-braised lobster mushrooms, grilled oyster mushrooms, saffron-lemon cashew cream, sweet pepperonata, and fried sage. It was love at first bite; this rich dish wowed us with its nuanced but harmonious reworking of the pillowy potato pasta. If only I could replicate it for holiday meals to come! Sadly, I am still a Tofurky-baking culinary amateur. We were also treated to the Roasted Fig Bruschetta, which perfectly balanced both sides of our palates with its synthesis of sweet smoked-onion marmalade, macadamia nut cheese, and radicchio-cherry tomato salad. 

Choosing a cocktail also proved difficult, since Millennium's cocktail program is world-class and ridiculously inventive. Ever wet your whistle with a libation flavored by muddled tarragon, heirloom tomatoes, or basil vodka? I opted for the Happy Boy—a concoction of gin, lemon verbena, watermelon, beet purée, and lime juice—which proved refreshing, potent, and totally unique. I am a beet person, but initially even I was skeptical of the root vegetable's inclusion. But one sip, and I was sold. And tipsy.

My artichoke jungle shortly before being scarfed.

Now for the main event. As a mushroom freak—of the non-psychedelic variety—I immediately gravitated towards the Roasted Artichoke, stuffed with a portobello, pecan, and eggplant-piccadillo filling, all resting atop creamy porcini mushroom-toasted farro risotto. Come one, come all, my precious fungi. If I see the word "porcini" in a dish I barely care what else is in it; my destiny is clear. Rebecca was also charmed by her choice: the Heirloom Tomato Coconut Masala, with a butterball potato-chickpea cake, mint chutney, and pickled cabbage. 

After about half an hour of recovery/digestion/sparkling wine time, we were ready for our sweet finale. Upon being presented with dessert menus, we were immediately sent us into a tailspin of indecision. Finally, we pulled our server closer. "What should we really get? We can handle it. Be honest with us," we implored her. The Molten Chocolate Rum Cake had caught our eye, but she caught us off guard with some restaurant philosophy. "Chocolate is always a good choice, but that's the thing—it's always a good choice. Some things, you can't get anywhere," she spoke to us cryptically before nudging towards the Vanilla-Pear Tart. We abided by her suggestion and were far from disappointed. The slightly salty walnut-pecan crust of this delectable dessert gorgeously complemented its syrupy medallions of perfectly in-season pear. 

 The tart that stole our hearts.

 Bellies full, curiosity satiated, and many thank-yous distributed, we wandered back out into the evening's drizzle. Autumn's harvest flavors are as warm and rich as the colors of its leaves, and Millennium was the perfect place to immerse ourselves in them. With the guiding light of its knowledgeable staff, we had the chance to experience the best tastes of the season.