Monday, January 19, 2009

Veggie Hero: Nathan Runkle

Nathan Runkle is my kind of guy. He grew up on a farm in Ohio (so did I) and became a vegetarian based on his interaction with the animals (so did I). But Nathan took it a big step beyond the farm: he became a dedicated animal activist and founded the growing non-profit Mercy for Animals. I had a chance to meet him a few weeks ago and was impressed with his balanced presentation to a college class and his gentle but firm approach to changing minds. With Nathan at the helm, Mercy for Animals is sure to go far.

Are you vegetarian or vegan?

How long have you been veg*n?
Vegetarian for 13 years and vegan for 9 years

What inspired you to go veg?
Growing up on a small farm off the back country roads of Saint Paris, Ohio, I was surrounded by animals since the day I was born. Like most children, I grew up with a natural affinity for animals, and over time I developed strong bonds and friendships with our family's dogs and cats with whom we shared our home. However, it wasn't until later in life that I made the connection between my beloved dog, Sadie, for whom I would do anything to protect her from abuse and discomfort, and the nameless pigs, cows, and chickens who were transformed from living, feeling individuals to consumable corpses known to me only as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I came to understand that every time I sat down to eat I was making achoice that would not only affect my own health, but have a profound impact on the lives of animals. After reading about the true horror animals endured in our nation's factory farms and slaughterhouses, I decided to put my compassionate values into action in all aspects of my life - including my food choices.

What's your best story of trying to find veg food?
Oh, there are too many to count. Being a traveling vegan, especially to areas of the country that are not always the most veg-friendly, has certainly encouraged me to become creative at times. When I'm in a pinch, I always find the vegan options at Subway and Taco Bell to be life-savers.

How do you handle family holiday dinners?
I think the best way to promote veganism is by offering information, resources, and most importantly, amazing food with an open heart and encouragement. This applies to our families as well. After years of this approach, I've found that most of my family has either adopted a plant-based diet, or at least enjoy and appreciate it. Many of our family holiday dinners are now completely vegan.

What's your favorite veg food?
The vegan Radical Reuben sandwich at The Chicago Diner. It's so good it has the power to turn the most die-hard meat-eater into a vegan injust one sitting.

Do you have a favorite veg book?
I adore VegNews magazine - it's filled with such uplifting, current, fun, and inspiring information, recipes, and resources. (It's published by another one of our Veggie Heroes, Joseph Connelley.)

Tofu or tempeh?

What did you have for breakfast today?
A raw Lara Bar, banana, and hot tea.

Monday, January 12, 2009

1 in 200 American Kids are Vegetarian

Our very own Veggie Hero Dr. Amy Lanou is quoted in this Associated Press story!

First US count finds 1 in 200 kids are vegetarian
By MIKE STOBBE – 01.11.09

Sam Silverman is co-captain of his high school football team — a safety accustomed to bruising collisions. But that's nothing compared with the abuse he gets for being a vegetarian.
"I get a lot of flak for it in the locker room," said the 16-year-old junior at Westborough High School in Massachusetts.

"All the time, my friends try to get me to eat meat and tell me how good it tastes and how much bigger I would be," said Silverman, who is 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds. "But for me, there's no real temptation."

Silverman may feel like a vegetable vendor at a butchers' convention, but about 367,000 other kids are in the same boat, according to a recent study that provides the government's first estimate of how many children avoid meat. That's about 1 in 200.

Other surveys suggest the rate could be four to six times that among older teens who have more control over what they eat than young children do.

Vegetarian diets exclude meat, but the name is sometimes loosely worn. Some self-described vegetarians eat fish or poultry on occasion, while others — called vegans — cut out animal products of any kind, including eggs and dairy products.

Anecdotally, adolescent vegetarianism seems to be rising, thanks in part to YouTube animal slaughter videos that shock the developing sensibilities of many U.S. children. But there isn't enough long-term data to prove that, according to government researchers.

The new estimate of young vegetarians comes from a recent federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of alternative medicine based on a survey of thousands of Americans in 2007. Information on children's diet habits was gleaned from about 9,000 parents and other adults speaking on the behalf of those under 18.

"I don't think we've done a good job of counting the number of vegetarian youth, but I think this is reasonable," Amy Lanou, a nutrition scientist at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, said of the government estimate. She works with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a vegan advocacy group.

Vegetarians say it's animal welfare, not health, that most often causes kids to stop eating meat.
"Compassion for animals is the major, major reason," said Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, an organization with a newsletter mailing list of about 800.

"When kids find out the things they are eating are living animals — and if they have a pet...."
Case in point is Nicole Nightingale, 14, of Safety Harbor, Fla. In 2007, Nightingale was on the Internet to read about chicken when she came across a video on YouTube that showed the birds being slaughtered. At the end, viewers were invited to go to the Web site — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Nicole told her parents she was going vegan, prompting her mother to send an angry letter to PETA. But the vegan diet is working out, and now her mother is taking steps to become a vegetarian, too, said Nightingale, an eighth-grader.

She believes her experience was typical for a pre-adolescent vegetarian. "A lot more kids are using the Internet. They're curious about stuff and trying to become independent and they're trying to find out who they are," she said.

Vegetarians are most often female, from higher-income families and living on the East or West coasts, according to previous studies. One good place to find teen vegetarians is Agnes Scott College, a mostly white, all-women's private school in suburban Atlanta with about 850 students. Roughly 5 to 10 percent of Agnes Scott students eat vegetarian, said Pete Miller, the college's director of food service.

Frequently, the most popular entree at the college dining hall is a fresh mozzarella sandwich with organic greens. And the comment board (called "the Beef Board," as in "what's your beef?") often contains plaudits for vegetarian dishes or requests for more. "They're very vocal," Miller said of his vegetarian diners.

Eating vegetarian can be very healthy — nutritionists often push kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, of course. For growing children, however, it's important to get sufficient amounts of protein, vitamins B12 and D, iron, calcium and other important nutrients that most people get from meat, eggs and dairy.

Also, vegetarian diets are not necessarily slimming. Some vegetarian kids cut out meat but fill up on doughnuts, french fries, soda or potato chips, experts said.

"Vegetarian doesn't mean low-calorie," said Dr. Christopher Bolling, who directs weight management research at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. He said roughly 10 to 15 percent of the overweight kids who come to his medical center's weight loss program have tried a vegetarian diet at some point before starting the program.

Rayna Middlebrooks, 15, last year started a weight-loss program offered by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a nonprofit hospital organization. She said she's been on a vegetarian diet for four years and now carries about 250 pounds on her 5-foot-3 inch frame.

Her mother confirmed that, and said that although Rayna does a great job of cooking vegetable-rich stir-fried meals for herself, the girl also loves pasta, soda and sweets. "I have to watch her with the candy," said Barbara Middlebrooks, of Decatur.

On the flip side is Silverman, the Boston-area football player. He's pleased with his health and has no problem sticking to his diet. Rather than try to negotiate the school cafeteria line, he brings his lunch to school. It's the same lunch every day — rye bread, some chicken-like tofu, cheese, a clementine and an assortment of Nutrigrain, Cliff, granola and Power Bars.

He was raised vegetarian and said it's now so deeply ingrained that the idea of eating meat is nauseating. Recently, he ate something he belatedly realized might contain chicken. "I felt sick the rest of the day, until I threw up," he said.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Slowing Down

Traditional Appalachian cooking is the epitome of slow food. A cast iron skillet was only properly seasoned after years of use. Moonshine took months to make, starting with the planting of corn in the spring. Cooking down apple butter, rendering lard and canning produce took all day long. Even the daily fare of homemade bread, simmering soup beans and cooked greens took hours. Where has the time gone?

Now we eat fast food in the car driving 60 miles an hour. We stand and mentally hurry along the microwave as it heats our frozen dinners. We consume instant mashed potatoes, instant rice and instant coffee. I mean really, what’s the rush?

A return to slowing down again and truly savoring food may seem pretty unglamorous but it is a trend quietly sweeping the world. In 1986 the Slow Food movement was founded in direct response to the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Rome’s famous Piazza di Spagna. This organization is dedicated to preserving and supporting traditional ways of growing, producing and preparing food. Their manifesto declares that “a firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.” The American branch of Slow Food was launched in 1998 and the movement continues to gain interest worldwide by people who care about preserving the traditional foodways in their communities.

We can embrace Appalachian slow food by choosing locally grown, seasonal food. Perhaps we could commit to a day a month or even a day each week to slow down, to carefully choose the food and consciously prepare it. Why not involve the whole family in the process or share this delicious food with friends? We might discover that the food tastes better and that we feel nourished and satisfied on many different levels. And that is something that no fast food meal or microwave dinner could ever offer. Who knows? This might just turn into a revolution, one bite at a time.

To learn more about Slow Food, click on
To learn more about Slow Food USA, click on

Blue Ribbon Dinner Rolls

Both my grandmother and my mother won notoriety at the county fair with this superior bread recipe (I’ve modified it slightly). After winning a blue ribbon, my grandmother was featured in a yeast ad and around a decade later, my mother was named best cook in the county. It’s slow food at it’s best.

1 cup warm water
4 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tablespoons cane sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon sea salt
Unbleached flour

1. In a small bowl, combine water and yeast. Set aside to activate, about 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, egg, and salt. Add yeast mixture.

3. Add flour until just stiff – trust your judgement and intuition but it will take around 4 cups. Knead until springy and elastic, about 5 minutes.

4. Lightly grease a large bowl, turn dough into it, cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm, dry place until double in bulk, about 2 hours.

5. Punch down, knead, and let rise again, about 1 hour.

6. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Set aside.

7. Knead and form into rounded, sandwich-size rolls. Lay out on prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise final time, about 30 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

9. Bake in hot oven for about 20 minutes or until golden.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


How many biscuits can you eat this morning?
How many biscuits can you eat this evening?
How many biscuits can you eat?
Forty-nine more and a ham of meat.
This morning, this evening, right now!

Make my coffee good and strong this morning,
Make my coffee good and strong this evening,
Make my coffee good and strong,
Keep on bringing those biscuits on,
This morning, this evening, right now!

-- Two verses from the traditional mountain tune “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?”

In June 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England at the White House. A command performance had been arranged to feature the best American talent. Among the opera singers and classical musicians were the Coon Creek Girls, a string band from the Ohio Valley. The four women were scheduled to play old-time music and accompany Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s dance group from Western North Carolina.

The Coon Creek Girls opened with the traditional mountain tune “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?” and stole the show. Proof positive that Appalachians take both their music and their food seriously!

Like many old-time songs, “How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?” mentions delicious mountain foods and pays particular homage to one of the foods most revered in Appalachian culture: biscuits. Whether eaten at breakfast, lunch (dinner to you old-timers) or supper, biscuits fit the bill. They can be paired with butter, honey or jam just as they can accompany ham or gravy. Any way they are served, biscuits have been a delicious part of mountain meals for generations.

Widely regarded as unhealthy, biscuits have earned a bad reputation. There is something deeply satisfying and inherently nourishing about foods created from scratch. The “biscuits” popped out of store-bought tubes can never compare to hot, homemade biscuits. Treat yourself to some “this morning, this evening, right now!”


My husband says, “yours are the best damn biscuits I’ve ever eaten.” He might be a little biased, but I did spend months perfecting this recipe, which is based on a more traditional version. These biscuits have that great old-fashion taste but incorporate new, more healthful ingredients.

2 cups unbleached flour
3 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons organic butter or Spectrum Spread
¾ cup soymilk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease baking sheet and set aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together soymilk and vinegar. Set aside to clabber.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
4. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
5. Add soymilk mixture and stir just until firm dough forms.
6. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Dust lightly with flour and knead 20-30 times.
7. Pat out dough ½-inch thick.
8. Cut with a 3-inch biscuit cutter. Place on prepared baking sheet.
9. Repeat with remaining dough.
10. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until slightly golden on tops.
11. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Heritage Thanksgiving

Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was easy. It was a celebration of the harvest, an ingathering of the family, a time of prayer and reflection, a feast to be remembered all year long.

Today, most people do not have their own harvests to bring in. Family members are flung to the far corners of the globe. Those who do make it around the family table bow their heads and wonder what to say. What prayer is just right for the Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Atheists that may have gathered around the table together?

And the meal… well, it can become a point of contention for the vegans, the vegetarians, the macrobiotic eaters, those on low-carb diets, family members with food allergies…. the list goes on. Sometimes it just feels easier to stay at home with close friends and make foods that are familiar and comfortable.

There’s no doubt times have changed. And, I must say, it makes me a little sad.

I believe that we all can try a little harder to bring tradition back into our lives, to pull together family at the holidays, to pray in a way that honors all paths, and to prepare an amazing meal that accommodates all needs. This is not the Appalachia (or America) of yesterday, but is the one that I wish for as a tomorrow. I hope to do my part to make it happen. How about you?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back to the Kitchen

My very first cookbook was the classic vegetarian tome “Laurel’s Kitchen.” Though the recipes opened my eyes to the wonders of vegetarian cooking, it was the prefix to the book that changed my life. The introduction tells the simple story of friendship between women, the value of home cooking, and women’s history as “keepers of the keys.” Laurel Robertson and her co-author Carol Flinders recall a time when women held the keys to the food storehouses and pantries. In this esteemed position, women were responsible for wisely using their food resources and preparing nourishing meals for themselves and their loved ones. The fate of the family’s health lay squarely in her hands.

The story of women’s relationship to food goes even further back in history. Many anthropologists believe that women were the first agriculturalists, called to the duty of planting while men were away from home hunting. As they then gathered the harvests, women sang songs of praise to the land, to the sun, to the rain, and to the Creator behind these miracles. Thus women became tied to the land and food preparation forever.

Unfortunately, some of us have forgotten the importance of this role. The health of our bodies and that of our families and society show the loss. And many women choose not to cook, have forgotten how or never learned in the first place. It is time to heal the rift and take back the sacred role as keepers of the keys. It is time to come back to the kitchen.

"Laurel's Kitchen" features wonderful, folksy woodcut prints,
like this one, along with fantastic recipes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanksgiving Conundrum

With Thanksgiving just a week away, I'm beginning to plan my menu. My meat-eating family will be celebrating the holiday at my house, which means my vegetarian husband and I have faced the Thanksgiving Conundrum: to serve turkey or not?

For some, it's a no-brainer: there's no turkey on the table, no matter what. For others, there's room on the table for turkey and Tofurkey.

Time Magazine explores this issue in a thoughtful essay this week. Check it out online at: