Author Archives: Vegetarians of Washington

Packing a vegan school lunch

The kids are back in school, and we want to give them the best possible nutrition to support their learning and growth, not to mention encouraging them to think about the importance of the environment and the animals.  Many schools now offer at least one vegetarian option for school lunch, but kids can be picky eaters at the best of times, so if you want to ensure that your child has nutritious and healthy vegan food to eat, it is probably worth taking the time to pack something for them.  As they get older, you can put a selection of items out for them to choose from, so that they can make their own lunch to take.

Here are some ideas that are quick and easy, while still being nutritious:

Sandwiches, pita pockets or wraps: These are easy to eat, and could include a selection of the following: hummus, mashed avocado, chickpea “tuna” salad, baked tofu slices, meat-alternative deli slices, cheese spread substitutes, lettuce, cucumber, red pepper slices, grated carrot.  Wraps can be spread with hummus, the veggie ingredients lain in a line, then rolled up to make pin-wheel sandwiches, which are fun.  See recipes

Veggies and dips: Using several small containers, or a container with compartments, you can offer a selection of separate veggies – baby carrots, celery sticks, red pepper sticks, crackers – along with a dip such as hummus, tahini sauce, peanut butter (if allowed in your kids school, use sunflower butter otherwise), or a black bean dip.

Salad bowl: In a plastic bowl with a lid, place lettuce and a selection of veggies along with cooked beans and grains (eg. rice, quinoa) with a tasty dressing to pour over it, such as tahini sauce or another yummy dressing.

Soup or chili – use a wide-necked thermos to provide a hot soup or chili, with bread or crackers alongside.  Soups can be made in a large batch and frozen in kid-sized portions, then heated up in the morning before leaving for school. There are also many brands of vegan soups available canned or in cartons.

Leftovers from the night before – when you finish dinner the night before, transfer some leftovers into a plastic container with a lid, so that it’s ready to grab from the fridge, and take to school.  Don’t forget to send a reusable spoon or fork if needed.

Don’t forget the fruit – the healthiest packable dessert is any kind of fruit. Bananas and apples are easily consumed whole or pre-sliced. Grapes and clementine segments are easy finger food. Small bowls of precut fruit of any kind, with a small spoon, will be popular.

General tips – Avoid using any glass containers which may break in the hurly burly of school. Use an insulated lunchbag with an ice pack to keep foods vulnerable to spoilage fresh. But if the trendy thing is currently a brown paper bag, choose foods that are low-risk, and let your kid enjoy fitting in, even if the contents may be very different from the next kid!

Can beef be climate-friendly?

Meat eaters may now feel that they can eat beef without worrying about the impact on the climate.  In late 2021, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a verification program that allows meat producers to label their product “low-carbon” if it meets certain criteria. They have subsequently renamed the “low-carbon” designation “climate-friendly.” Just last month, Tyson Foods and Schweid & Sons, in partnership, offered the first burger to earn that designation for sale.

This is a classic case of greenwashing – using language that intentionally misleads the public into believing that something is environmentally friendly.  The USDA’s climate-friendly certification program is run by third party companies contracted by the USDA to evaluate meat producers’ agricultural practices to determine the emissions output.  If that measurement is at least 10% lower than an industry benchmark set by the auditing company for emissions, the producer gets USDA approval to label their products “climate-friendly”.

The problem is three-fold. First of all 10% is not much of a reduction in emissions.  But even worse, the benchmark is set so high that even average beef producers will qualify.  The benchmark is set at 26.3 kilograms of CO2 equivalent emissions per kilogram of carcass weight.  Reducing that by 10% means that beef producers must emit no more than 23.67 kg of CO2 equivalent per kilo of weight. But a 2019 study found that the US average for this metric is only 21.3 kg. In addition, the third-party verification process relies on the honor system, allowing companies to report their own calculations with a total lack of transparency, creating an obvious conflict of interest.

Not only are these problems enough to make the “climate-friendly” designation meaningless, but they don’t take into account all the other ways that raising beef causes harm to the environment such as the water and air pollution from manure, the massive amounts of water needed to raise crops to feed the cattle, the biodiversity lost through monocrops and cutting down the rainforest to raise cattle and grow crops.

This new program is particularly harmful because it leads producers and consumers to think they are doing something to benefit the environment, when in fact beef is by far the least climate-friendly food a person can eat. Don’t be fooled by these new labels.

Horse meat consumption needs to stop!

The sale of horse meat is controversial and it is banned in many countries.  Many people consider horses as pets, like cats and dogs, and can’t imagine eating them.  Here in the USA, slaughterhouses have long been banned from accepting horses, although it has still been legal to transport horses across the American borders for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.  We wrote previously about the introduction of a bill in Congress that would prohibit the export of live horses to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses.  The relevant bills (HR 3475/S 2037) have now been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and are making slow progress through various committees.

Let’s hope these bills are passed soon, because horses suffer greatly when they are transported long distances with minimal rest periods. They may lose their balance and fall on these trips and many will be unable to stand up again. They may be trampled on by other animals and it’s not uncommon for horses to die during transport.

In France, a draft bill is also being introduced to finally see horse meat banned and give horses the same rights as companion animals like cats and dogs.  A number of French celebrities have signed an open letter urging support of this bill. The vast majority of French people do not eat horse meat and it’s increasingly controversial among the general public, but there are still “boucherie chevalines” (specialized horse butcher shops) operating in France.

Horse meat is also still consumed in European countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and some parts of Italy, as well as on a number of other continents, such as Asia (Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, Japan), as well as Central and South America (Mexico and Argentina). Outside of Europe, Canada is one of the world’s biggest horse meat suppliers, although Canadians eat very little of the meat itself (except for a few areas in Quebec).  Unfortunately, the country exports both horse meat and live horses over long distances to Europe and Asia.

Like all animals raised for food, horses farmed for meat generally live in unpleasant and unnatural conditions.  They may be raised specifically for meat, or sent to slaughter after being retired from racing or pulling carriages, but either way they end up in large feedlots with thousands of others before being killed. Because they are going for meat, they don’t generally get veterinary care or hoof care. They frequently suffer from injuries and illnesses like hoof conditions and eye infections, and suffer from a lack of shelter in extreme weather conditions.

Let’s hope that legislation continues to make progress to ban the slaughter of these magnificent animals across the globe.  Of course we wish that the slaughter of all animals for food was prohibited.  Horses may be just the first step.

Preventing glioma – a brain cancer you do not want to get!

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While this might be OK as a general principle for some diseases, it doesn’t go far enough for others. When it comes to cancer, great progress has been made in treating some cancers but not all, and glioma, a form of brain cancer, is one of them. In this case an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. It’s more like a ton. There is usually no early detection for glioma and by the time the disease is detected it’s likely to already be at an advanced stage. The 5-year survival rate is only 5%.

While doctors are working hard to find effective treatments for glioma, they have already discovered ways to reduce the risk of getting it. It turns out that, just as with several other forms of cancer, a plant-based diet is powerful medicine when it comes to preventing glioma. Studies show that following a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of glioma by 71%. That’s pretty good for any disease, but for a cancer with only a 5% survival rate that’s saying quite a lot.

What is it about a plant-based diet that gives it this power to reduce the risk of glioma? Besides not containing animal foods, which can bioconcentrate carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals such as some pesticides and industrial pollutants, plant foods contain biological super-heroes. These super-heroes, technically called phytonutrients, have many health-promoting properties. There’s more to nutrition than just vitamins and minerals. Phytonutrients can helps cells from becoming malignant in the first place. For cells already cancerous they inhibit their growth and spread. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect. This is important since glioma usually entails quite a bit of inflammation.

While these benefits of reduced carcinogens, phytonutrients and reduced inflammation help prevent several other cancers as well, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer, the lack of effective treatment for glioma makes it all the more imperative to switch to a plant-based diet at the earliest possible time, preferably from birth!

A professional level article about glioma which we have recently written, has just been published in a medical journal.

Metallica on tour at 60, focus on staying healthy

Legendary heavy-rock band Metallica used to be known for performances fueled by alcohol and drugs, but these days members of the band (all around 60 years old) are choosing exercise, sleep and plant-based proteins such as tofu as their new habits of choice. They are also careful to make enough time between shows to prioritize family and well-being.

As far as food goes, the band is touring with their own personal chefs who prepare organic meals, using tofu as a key ingredient. Evidence is mounting about the role of soy protein in metabolic health and muscle maintenance. A recent study found a positive association between higher plant-protein intake and muscle mass, particularly among those who consumed higher amounts of total protein. Life on the road when touring can be tough on the body, so Metallica’s use of soy protein in many of their meals makes a lot of sense.

Throughout modern music history, many music stars have promoted meat-free diets, ranging from Moby and Carrie Underwood, to, of course, the most famous vegetarian Paul McCartney. Others have switched to a vegan diet to help them get or stay healthy, including Blink-182’s drummer Travis Barker and rapper  Whatever their reasons, celebrities choosing plant-based diets and foods are helping to inspire their fans everywhere to make similar choices.

LA’s vegan food bank

Everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves access to nourishing meals.  This is the founding principle of Vegans of Los Angeles Food Bank, which is working to ensure food security while championing healthier dietary choices for the residents of Southern California.  They aim to provide not just sustenance, but also a sense of dignity and positivity among those seeking aid.

Founder, Gwenna Hunter, was inspired to create the vegan food bank after she experienced food insecurity herself.  “At one point I had $5 to feed myself for the week.  It was one of the scariest and most stressful times of my entire existence” she says.  “I personally know what it feels like to wonder how you are going to feed yourself and survive.  It can be a very dark feeling that depletes your hope.” 

Gwenna says that a vegan food bank would have saved her from so much stress. Locally sourced, seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and beans line the shelves, alongside plant-based products donated by companies such as All Vegetarian Inc, Hodo Foods, Good Catch, OmniFoods and Just Egg. Individuals can select items that cater to their family’s dietary preferences and needs, giving a personalized and respectful approach to assistance.

Given the growing number of scientific studies that confirm the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the need for more plant-based nutrition is critical.  This food bank challenges the idea that we need to eat animal products to be healthy, as well as instilling patrons with a sense of hope and pride.

Professional basketball coach JB Blair inspires others to go vegan

Assistant coach to the Washington Wizards team, Joseph “JB” Blair has been vegetarian since college, and vegan for the past 9 years. His proactive advocacy has made it easier for players and coaches to opt for vegan choices.

At 49, Blair is no longer playing basketball himself, but throughout his career of professional basketball, including 4 seasons of college basketball, participation in several professional teams in Europe, and with the Harlem Globetrotters, he credits his vegetarian diet as helping him keep his weight under control and giving him more energy.  

Nine years ago he was inspired to go fully vegan, after his then-girlfriend told him of the cruelty of the animal agriculture industry. He feels that in addition to improving his physical health, the switch has helped change his mental state:

“Mentally, I have clear thinking and focus,” he says. “And, I truly do believe that the discipline it takes to follow a plant-based diet bleeds over to other aspects of your life, as well.”

The idea that a meal is not worth taking a life has become his guiding principle, a shift that permeates his lifestyle and professional commitments.

As the market for plant-based foods has improved, and many exciting foods that can easily be swapped in to replace their animal-derived counterparts have become available, he has found that post-game nutrition has included many more vegan options. For example, plant-based protein options for smoothies to give the players after a game are always available these days, in addition to whey protein.

Blair said that other NBA stars, such as superstar Chris Paul, going vegan, has helped to open the eyes of the players around him and make teams aware that they needed to cater for those players.  “There’s always some vegan options available now, and it makes such a difference for people to try it,” he says.  Blair makes a point to take players out to his favorite vegan restaurants in the cities where they are playing, to open them up to considering vegan options.

His ultimate aim is to become a stronger ambassador for a plant-based lifestyle, both on and off the court.

Mexican food, vegan style

Mexican cuisine is one of the easiest in which to find good vegan options, given that it is traditionally cooked with a lot of beans, rice and vegetables.  If you’re looking for a restaurant in a town with limited vegan options, a Mexican restaurant will often be your best bet.  A key question to ask is whether they use lard in their refried beans.  Whole beans are a good choice if lard is used in the refried beans. At most Mexican family restaurants, you will likely have the choice of a bean and veggie burrito, veggie fajitas, vegetable enchiladas, veggie tacos, and other options.  Just ask them to hold the cheese and sour cream and you’ll have a delicious and wholesome meal.  Salsa and corn chips are always vegan and delicious as a starter.  

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Plastic from fishing kills coral reefs

Scientists have made a surprising discovery about the plastic in the ocean’s coral reefs. The majority of plastic comes from fishing operations, not land-based plastics. Although the researchers found much consumer debris, such as water bottles and food wrappers, which are often the main source of plastic pollution in other ecosystems, nearly three-quarters of all plastic items documented on the surveyed reefs were related to fishing like ropes, nets, and fishing lines.  

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COP28 to serve mostly vegan food

Maybe they’re finally seeing the light about the heat caused by raising meat. This year’s annual United Nations Climate Change Conference will reportedly serve “mostly vegan food” following backlash at previous years’ events.

The annual conference sees world leaders come together to discuss how to tackle the climate crisis. In the past, it has sparked major backlash for sidelining – and often completely ignoring – animal agriculture’s impact. This is despite the fact that livestock farming is a major contributor to global warming and ecological destruction.

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