Guess who’s coming to dinner

Samantha Bridges

The date is marked in your calendar. Your friend is having a dinner party on Saturday night. You can’t figure out whether to be excited or dread it because they’re making their famous pot roast, and as a vegan you can’t even stand the thought of looking at it. For most vegans, this is a common scenario.

Knowing your table manners, bringing the host or hostess a gift are typical examples of polite dinner etiquette when going to somebody’s house. But for a vegan, a large dinner crowd can feel overwhelming, however it’s important to make your dietary restrictions known. Whether you’re invited out for dinner, or going to a party, as a vegan don’t make your friends cater to you if you haven’t helped prepare yourself first. There are certain steps you must take when being a dinner guest.

When someone invites to you dinner, let them know what you can and can’t eat. That way your host will have plenty of time to prepare something separate for you. Toronto etiquette specialist Louise Fox believes common courtesy can go a long way to help vegans enjoy a dinner party.

“Sometimes vegans think that it would be more trouble to tell the guest of their restrictions, so they wait till they’re at dinner to say anything. You can’t expect the host to accommodate you if you don’t say anything before,” Fox said.

When you have dietary restrictions one solution is telling the person, “It’s okay, I will just bring my own thing,” Or simply eat before you go to the party so you don’t starve. Los Angeles vegan chef Brian Patton learned this the hard way.

“In my first month of being vegan, I was at a fancy dinner party at a friend’s house and they were serving a bunch of hors d’oeuvres. None of them were vegan, and since I was inexperienced at being vegan I didn’t eat anything before hand. So I ended up eating nothing that night,” he said.  “My stomach felt like it was eating itself.”

Help the host during busier times of the year such as holidays. Often the host has a signature dish they want to perfect, and preparing a vegan option may seem like too much work. But there is still a way for everyone to be happy. Kristin Lajeunesse, a vegan blogger of “Will Travel for Vegan Food,” believes that both parties can meet in the middle.

“If the host wants to do all the cooking, ask them to send you their favourite recipes,” she says. “There are a bunch of great vegan options for the holidays. It won’t seem like extra work if it’s done ahead of time.”

She says it’s important to keep in mind that dinner is about enjoying time with family and friends.

The trick to being a great dinner guest is knowing what to do before going to the party. Let the host know about your restrictions immediately or bring your own separate meal. Also help the host research some quick, delicious vegan options for everyone, so next time you’re invited to a dinner party, you won’t dread being that pain-in-the-butt guest. Embrace the company of your friends and family with a little communication and planning ahead.

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How to satisfy your vegan sweet tooth

Alissa Heidman

Many individuals choose a vegan diet based on their desire to live a healthy lifestyle. While proper nutrition and exercise is certainly important, a balanced diet includes a sweet treat now and then. Whether you’re a beginning vegan or a veteran vegan you need to know how satisfy that sweet tooth without compromising your vegan values.

If you’re not a whiz in the kitchen don’t fret! There are a lot of products out there that are technically vegan to satisfy your sweet and salty cravings. Lesia Kohut, a chef and founder of LPK’s Culinary Groove in Toronto says because veganism is trending, these products are becoming easier to spot on grocery shelves.

“Companies nowadays big and small are jumping on whatever marketing bandwagon they can. You’re going to see a lot of vegan stuff out there [that] wasn’t necessarily labeled ‘vegan’ before,” Kohut says.

Anne-Marie Campbell is a Toronto vegan who lives very healthily as an MMA athlete but admits she does enjoy junk food like sweet and salty popcorn on occasion when she isn’t training.

“There’s a lot of vegan junk food at the grocery store,” Campbell says. “Some good ones are Oreos, Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids, Ritz Crackers, So Delicious ice cream and frozen desserts and Tofurky frozen pizza.”

When she’s enjoying time with friends or family, she stacks up on mixed nuts, tortilla chips with salsa and vegan cheese and crackers.

“I also really like dark chocolate-covered coconut cubes and almonds,” she says.

Kohut has been creating vegan desserts for over 15 years. She took home the win for Toronto’s “Best Professionally Crafted Vegan Dessert” in 2009 and 2010 with her vanilla bars and peanut butter Nanaimo bars. Some of her favourite ingredients are certified organic sugar, coconut milk, dark Camino chocolate, organic peanut butter and of course fruit. She makes her own vegan ice cream with a coconut milk based sorbet which is sweetened with agave and other fruits that are in season.

Kohut says you don’t need to be a chef to come up with your own mouthwatering sweet creations. Random ingredients in your kitchen can do the trick. Such as this dessert idea she pulled together last-minute on her birthday:

“I took coconut milk and organic peanut butter and I whipped [them] together. Then I had some fresh raspberries available and some organic frozen blueberries. I just made myself a parfait,” Kohut says.

Kristen Bethel Lepine is a Toronto-based vegan educator and founder of a mobile vegan cooking school called Know Thy Food. She works with a lot of beginner vegans teaching them how to transition their diet and cooking.

“While I teach whole food vegan cooking focusing on unprocessed and simple ingredients – I still enjoy going out for cupcakes, cinnamon buns and vegan French fries,” Bethel Lepine says. “I know that vegan food trends are like any other ones and I can tell you that when vegans find anything sweet that they can eat, they are usually pretty excited.”

Creating your own vegan sweets is all about finding alternatives to the animal products use in most non-vegan treats. This includes dairy, honey, bone char refined sugar and gelatin to name a few. The way around this is finding alternative fats and sweeteners that work as well as animal-based counterparts.

Bethel Lepine says she uses dates, raisins, coconut sugar and sometimes stevia which are all great plant-based sources of sugar for her vegan desserts. Her recipe for vegan date squares is a quick and easy dessert fix anyone can make at home.

“I like to mix oats with some virgin coconut oil, date paste with some cinnamon and nutmeg. You can pop it in the oven or you can put it in the fridge if you want it raw,” she says.

Having desserts and junky snacks in moderation is a way to stay on track and fulfill your cravings. You can do this by learning more from a vegan cooking class, filling your kitchen with vegan-labeled products and visiting your local vegan baker. Having sweets and snacks should never be a guilty pleasure – just a delicious one.

Vegans hit the runway

Samantha Bridges

Every year our closet goes through a routine of “out with the old and in with the new.” We want our closet to stay trendy and current, so we replace old clothes with something new. However, what if your closet was about to make the ultimate transformation? Imagine you were transforming your closet into vegan.

A woman’s closet is her sanctuary. Throwing away some old clothes can be heartbreaking enough, but what does it take to completely change the way you think about the clothes you wear? The first step into understanding vegan fashion is to think of it from the animal’s point of view, and to prioritize their wants over fashion.

Toronto vegan fashion designer, Renia Pruchnicki, lives her life in the fashion industry, but originally never saw herself as a future vegan.

“Originally, I just wanted to become more healthy. I never even thought about becoming vegan. It wasn’t until I started changing my diet that I realized how poorly we are treating animals,” Pruchnicki said.

After twelve years in business, her company Truth, specializing in vegan belts, found that switching your accessories to non-vegan are the first steps in changing your wardrobe.

“I think the biggest difference between non-vegan and vegan fashion are accessories, because before you become a vegan, everyone has a leather belt, and leather shoes,” Pruchnicki said.

Switching to vegan clothing is not just about changing your clothes, but alternating your lifestyle. Pruchnicki believes that humans are resistant to change, so if you’re going to make the decision to wear vegan clothes, start slowly.

“I don’t think it matters how you transition. People can’t change overnight, because some people buy my belts but keep their leather ones because they don’t want to throw them away,” Pruchnicki said. “There’s a lot of people who still have some leather in their closet. I mean, throwing out 5 pairs of leather shoes doesn’t make sense to me.”

Being able to shop vegan in the city is limited, despite the growing popularity of vegan. When thinking about switching over to vegan, researching the types of materials that vegan stores use, and where to find certain items can keep you up-to-date with fashion trends.

Toronto vegan shopper, Ashkon Hobooti, knows everything he needs to know about vegan fashion, and strongly believes in the animals needs. To make the change, the first thing you need to know is that it’s cruelty-free.

“You’re not wearing something that use to be breathing. To me, that’s the most important thing to understand,” Hobooti said.

Hobooti who use to work at a Toronto vegan shoe store called “Left Feet” believes that what makes vegan fashion so trendy is that it’s different, and since fashion changes daily, every designer is eager to come up with the next best thing that is different.

“People tend to gravitate towards new and exciting things, and I think that’s why vegan fashion is so trendy,” Hobooti said.

Hobooti, looked for guidance to learn about vegan fashion when he moved to Toronto.

“I contacted the Toronto Vegetarian Association when I moved to Toronto in 2004 because they have many resources, but also volunteers and members that know exactly where to find the best of everything, whether it’s shoes, coats, belts or whatever,” Hobooti said.

When you decide to make the switch to vegan fashion, it’s important to look to a high power for advice. Meaghan Flint, a fashion student at the London College of Fashion, says that many celebrities and famous fashion designers have set the bar high for vegan fashion, generating popularity.

“I know that Stella McCartney doesn’t use any leather or fur in her designs. When you take a big name like hers, vegan fashion automatically becomes more trendy, and people are more likely to shop vegan, or at least experiment more with their wardrobe,” Flint said.

In the fashion world, the name means everything. However, in the vegan fashion world, the message behind the clothes becomes dominant.

“I know that her mother was an animal rights activist, so she grew up in that kind of environment, so it’s easy for her to show that in her fashion,” Flint said.

“She has that mind set of what is trendy and what can make people feel good. I think that’s why people shop vegan, and it’s why people should give it a try because people want to feel good when they buy a new outfit. Why not support a good cause while doing it?” Flint said.

It’s difficult for people to give up things that they’re use to, and fashion is no exception. Although people are resistant to change, the benefits that come from vegan fashion are endless. You can keep your trendy look and feel good about where your clothes come from. However, it doesn’t mean you have to throw away your genuine leather jacket, or your leather shoes. Wear alternatives that provide the same look, but don’t harm any animals in the making.

Photo courtesy of Renia Pruchnicki.

Photo courtesy of Renia Pruchnicki.

Plant based powerhouses

Alissa Heidman “Unhealthy”, “drained”, “scrawny”, “undernourished”; these are all words that sometimes might be used to describe vegans. Would it surprise you to know that “Strongest Man of Germany” is vegan? Or that a woman prepared to tackle an 80km ultramarathon is primarily vegan? Just like other stereotypes we face in today’s society, the concept … Continue reading