How We Spent Our Spring Break: Tornadoes, Texas, Trump Trumped and Terror Tacos, a Travelog
Some of my most cautionary tales start out this way: I thought it would be fun. Keep that in mind when I say that I thought it would be fun to take a road trip for my son’s spring break. Foreshadowing music would be handy to have in everyday life but I’d probably ignore it. John and I have always shared a love of just getting in a car and winding our way to a destination or simply meandering, hitting points of interest and unexpected detours along the way. This may be the last time for the foreseeable future we will be traveling with our son as he gets ready to graduate college and find his way in the world, so it was also a bittersweet recognition of that.
Many years ago, John and I took a slow, twisty drive from Chicago to New Mexico along Route 66 with our precious angel dog Lenny and this remains one of our cherished memories together, one we still reminisce about all the time. It was pre-internet and cell phones, so you took out your maps and your guidebooks and you just did it. It was also before social media, of course, email you didn’t want to pile up and a 24-hour news cycle so, hokey as it sounds, it was a simpler time and a vacation was a real time away. That previous sentence is to be heard in the voice of the narrator from the Country Time commercial.
At the time of our drive down Route 66, we were new vegans and access wasn’t nearly as simple as it is today, especially through the vast swath of area in the middle of our country but that was part of the fun, even as challenging as it could be at times. Would we get killed by a militia due to an ill-timed wrong turn in Missouri? [Spoiler alert: We didn’t.] Would we go hungry in Oklahoma? [Spoiler alert: Not quite but almost.] Granted, reviewing something from the comfort of a rearview mirror has a way of blurring and blunting the real-life difficulties but at the same time, don’t you want to have some funny or at least interesting stories to tell friends, the kind you won’t likely experience at an all-inclusive? Anyway, that was what I told myself, though I will admit when standing in the cold drizzle at a service station in Arkansas with a broken serpentine belt having just been diagnosed, keeping a sunny attitude was not the easiest thing to summon. More on that later…
The plan was to drive to Houston to visit some of my side of the family and then spend the remaining time in Austin visiting friends, and, let’s be honest, stuffing ourselves silly with vegan food before hitting the road back to Chicago. Two days driving out, three days in Houston, a day and a half in Austin, two days on the return drive: eight days altogether. What is really almost miraculous is we actually did just that despite the wrenches Mother Nature and technology threw at us at various junctures to and from Texas.
We survived it all in one piece, though, including the bananas which I’d forgotten my aunt made us pack along with us when we left Houston and my son stumbled upon when I asked for a chocolate from our snack bag in the back seat, but, you know what? I correctly calculated that they would actually be in perfect smoothie condition by the time we got to Chicago and my poor son, dry-heaving from the smell of the off-gassing, ever-ripening bananas, said, fine, but could we put them in the trunk, please? I said, sure, and seized the teachable moment that it’s not a proper road trip if someone doesn’t retch from a strong smell emanating from the back seat. See? He may be done with his formal education soon – I have no idea – but the school of life never ends.
. . .
I mainly want to focus on the food and places we got to enjoy but there is no getting around the fact that the drive there was on the harrowing side. Before I get there, though, I have to give some recognition to Red Herring in Urbana, IL, the first official vegan spot we hit on the way out of the Land of Lincoln. Red Herring is, well, it is a trip: A hippie-era throwback, Red Herring is a living time capsule in a church basement of this college town that is pretty much the platonic ideal of a café forged in the heady year of the Summer of Love, a rarity usually only found in aforementioned college towns these days. We kind of tumbled in the back door like Alice after walking up and down the narrow church staircase and ultimately, turned the knob of an unassuming door, which opened the way to an utterly fabulous, busy operation happening without the barest of peeps outside those doors. I did feel like I fell down a rabbit hole when I opened the door to this glorious vision…
John got the Toasty Hexwrap, Justice got the Seitan Gyros, I got the Buffalo Tempeh and I will tell you right now that food reviewing isn’t my bag (please extend this warning to my other restaurant mentions as well) but what I had was super wholesome and delicious, including the peanut butter-thumbprint cookie I keep returning to in my taste memories, it was that perfect.
In between everything, I pretty much ran around gasping and mouthing, “O!M!G!” as I took another picture because, well, I’m a dweeb and it was basically the best place ever.
Did I mention Red Herring is a non-profit, activist and artist-supporting space and when we walked in on that Friday afternoon, a klezmer band was playing live? That they offer free food events to support the local LGBTQ+ community?
. . .
I was half-expecting to see a Chesire cat smiling at me from behind the counter, which means I was in heaven. I should say that I had no, um, mood enhancers on my person and thank goodness for that because after we stopped for that meal and we climbed back up the church steps and stepped out of the good vibes womb of Red Herring, buzzing and sated, we basically drove into a tornado for the rest of the day and night. I needed my wits about me.
At first it was kind of like, “This is some rain, huh?” and it was just a steady gray stream for a couple of hours, from one to ten on the windshield wiper scale, about a five in speed. John and I both had the sense that it was a lot, but maybe we just weren’t used to that kind of rain, much like people in warm climates experiencing a rare snowfall. The thing is, though, we do get lots of rain here, especially this time of year, so that wouldn’t explain it. We just seemed unable to evade the cover of a giant rain cloud. You know how on The Munsters, there was always a rain cloud over their home? That was how it felt.
The more we drove south, though, the more the rain accelerated. It became more and more evident that this wasn’t just an experience we weren’t used to, it was extreme. Cars and trucks started pulling over or driving with their hazards on. Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain kept going through my head, then turned into A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, then I could hear no music because I was white-knuckling it, either as a driver or in the passenger’s seat. We’d planned and hoped to get to Memphis that first night for dinner but it wasn’t safe to keep going. I finally told John I thought we should pull off the next exit with a hotel and call it. The rain was pounding and the visibility was getting worse. The first hotel we saw had no vacancies. They were slammed with drivers who’d also pulled over. The second one, a little down the road, had a single room left. As John was getting things set up, I got the Emergency Weather notifications: Tornados. Find shelter.
Don’t need to tell me twice. We were so lucky to have found a place.
The next morning, the rain was gone. We did not stop in Memphis to make up for some lost time, but we did get to drive through Johnny Cash’s boyhood hometown, Dyess, AK. It’s a very small town, fewer than 350 residents, but has an interesting history, having been founded during the Great Depression as an incentive for people willing to farm the land in exchange for 20 acres and a modest home. Johnny Cash’s father was among the 500 applicants accepted. A theater, town hall and resettlement-era city hall remain standing.
. . .
Back on the road. In Little Rock, AK, we had a great meal at MeMe’s Twisted Potato on a picnic table – the food is delicious and worth the wait – and met a super friendly orange tabby who is part of the family. John got the Boss Hook Em Burger, Justice got Kazim’s Fried Chicken Plate and I got King Mushroom Philly Tacos. So good!
We wouldn’t get to Houston until late that night, John somehow lost his phone (lost as in never got it back), which was fun, and then we visited family, played with a gorgeous doggy friend and ate at vegan-accommodating chains for three days with extended relatives. I also saw a Great Blue Heron and had some terrible vegan sour cream.
It was great to see family but the culinary adventures were on pause in Houston.
. . .
That ended when we made our way to Austin. Now I’m getting to the foodie portion of our trip.
Our first meal in Austin was lunch at Nissi Vegmex, which was a great start to our time in vegan food heaven. John got the Flautas, Justice got the Carne Asada Fries and I got the Birria Tacos. All filling, warm and flavor-packed. We also got a chance to charge our two remaining phones, so that was appreciated.
We then spent a couple of hours wandering South Congress Avenue, poking our heads into some shops, being introduced to some local grackles, and just soaking up the warm air.
We found a hotel, charged things up and then met one of my dear friends from high school and her husband for dinner at The Beer Plant. My friend Deb is a writer, creative writing professor and vegan, by the way. Check out her fabulous novel, Barn 8.
John got the Eggplant Parmesan, Justice got the veggie burger special (can’t find the name) and I got the Beer Plant Curry. Perfectly delicious! Again, I’m not a food reviewer. It was good! Unless I tell you otherwise, assume it was delicious.
. . .
The next day, Thursday, we met one of my dearest friends from college at Citizen Eatery, which was a bright, modern spot with a great thrift store in close walking distance. I ordered the Paleo Bowl, which was my favorite kind of dish, just packed with interesting textures and flavors, and John and Justice both got the Pecan Pesto Noodles. We were on vacation, so we also got the Banana Pudding and Chocolate-Avocado Mousse, both so rich and comforting, and we talked and talked and talked. A great time and meal.
We went back to the hotel for a bit to recharge and. Then. I. Got. A. Notification. On. My. Phone. That. Made. My. Day. It warmed the cockles of my heart to break the news to my husband and be the one to tell my son, who was in a room across from ours. Oh, those heartwarming family moments!
I will be living off the fumes of that high for a while. My body extracts every last drop of dopamine like a camel does a glug of water.
We took off from there for the vegan bakery, Zucchini Kill, which was freaking adorable and fabulous and next door to a witchy shop I wanted to spend alllllll my money at because of course I did. We got three cupcakes: Sweet Lemon Cream, Cookies n’ Cream and S’mores for the drive back the next day because we were still so full from lunch. The cupcakes were just the right size, AKA not gutbusters, and brightly flavored. (Also gluten-free.) I may have also picked up a souvenir in the form of a t-shirt. Zucchini Kill was a definite highlight of the trip, warming my Riot Grrrl heart and nourishing my vegan spirit.
We kind of toodled around the area, then we made our way to the nearby Rebel Cheese for dinner. Rebel Cheese, which I absolutely had to hit, just blew me away. I don’t know if I was just high from the indictment or it was all that awesome, but I suspect both are true. It’s just a beautiful space and the food was just perfect. I got the Egg Salad Sandwich (it’s the only gluten-free sandwich), Justice got the, well, I’m not sure, we seem to have missed taking a picture of it, and John got the Reuben. All was super delicious and we really enjoyed this different kind of culinary experience than is the norm for vegans who came of age during the era of not many options.
From there, we stopped to see the famous migrating Mexican free-tailed bats of Austin make their evening flight from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Photos are dark because it was overcast so I didn’t get any pictures of my nocturnal friends but they were fun to see in person.
Honestly, there was enough to see and do in Austin to last a week but we only had a short time. I feel we packed it in, though! Next time, I will want to spend at least four or five days in the beautiful town.
. . .
The next morning, we got an early start and had our Zucchini Kill cupcakes for breakfast as we started our way home.
The first stop was El Palote Panaderia in Dallas for lunch, which was adorable and very filling. I neglected to take a photo of John’s food (d’oh!) but I got the Enchiladas Plate and Justice got the BBQ Sandwich Plate.
We drove through the day, once again planning to get to Memphis, but we couldn’t quite make it. This time, there was about thirty minutes of hard rain but from the dark clouds and lightning on either side of us, we could tell there were some serious storms we would be lucky to avoid.
We missed the natural disaster on the way back but we didn’t get so lucky with mechanical issues. Our serpentine belt broke in rural Arkansas and we were lucky enough to be able to limp off the expressway and find a service station that was minutes from closing. Nothing else would be available for miles. It was expensive and cost us a couple of hours but we were so damn lucky. We found a standard Chinese restaurant off the highway for dinner and then booked ourselves into a hotel, planning to get up early the next day, Saturday, to get home in time to pick up my darling Ruby-Mae from her sitter.
. . .
The next morning, we drove by landscapes that were fully submerged. This was what we missed the day before by sheer luck and timing; it is also a lot of the same places slammed by tornadoes the week before on our way out. My heart goes out to those who have been hit by these disasters. Please consider donating to the Red Cross’s disaster relief fundraiser.
Okay, so it’s time for a radical pivot and I hope you don’t think I’m insensitive but we’re getting close to the end of this thing and there are still terror tacos to cover. Okay, so all I am saying is there is a metal-horror themed vegan taco (and more!) restaurant in St. Louis and because of how perfect the space was, I thought that even if the food were mediocre, I’d still have been happy we went to Terror Tacos and I would have been but the food was as amazing as the vibe. Absolutely freaking delicious and probably our favorite meal on the trip, which is saying a lot because there was not a disappointment among them. Feast your eyes and hit them up if you are ever in St. Louis. John got the Carnage Asada Burrito, Justice got the Chorizo-Mango Quesadilla and I got the Buffalofu Bowl, which was a big bowl of absolute fun. We would be going to Terror Tacos weekly if we lived in any proximity to it but as it is, I will be going out of the way to hit them up the next time we’re traveling through. YUM!
Afterwards and fittingly, we happened upon the old Cleveland High School, which was built in 1911 and abandoned in 2006. Isn’t it spooky and awesome?! Phyllis from The Office is an alumna!
Last but not least, we hit up the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, IL on the way back because I have wanted to see the GenX exhibit (or is that X-Hibit???) for a while and it was super fun! Watching my son try to dial a rotary phone – well, it doesn’t get better than that. He gets to be smug to us about our tech issues without consequence? I don’t think so.
Despite setbacks along the road, we hit all my goals – bats in Austin, GenX exhibit, two friends and family, a fabulous variety of vegan food – on this trip and made it safely home Saturday night to cuddle with the dog and cats.
20 years ago today...
As the Bombs Began Raining Down on Baghdad, We Joined 15,000 Chicagoans Who Invaded Lake Shore Drive.
It was a night we had spent at least a year trying to prevent. Inspectors had proven that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and anyone following the news knew that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 911 terrorist attack. Millions of us from around the world had been protesting the streets for months by this time. But gosh-darn it, Bush and Cheney desperately wanted this war and the US media wanted all the headlines it would produce. In the last few weeks, we had been forced to shift our attention from trying to prevent the war to organizing protests against it.
It was, I believe, the very early hours of March 21st in Baghdad when the cruise missiles started exploding, but it was the late afternoon of March 20th here in Chicago. There had been plans in place for everyone to gather at Federal Plaza when the invasion began, and by the time Marla, Justice and I arrived along with our friends Jane, David and their baby Xander, the crowd had swelled to thousands of people and their loud chants were echoing through the black steel and glass canyons of the Mies van der Rowe designed Federal Buildings surrounding us.
Justice, who at the tender age of nine months old, was already a veteran of dozens of protests, meetings, conferences and tabling events on several different social justice issues, was comfortably seated in his Baby Bjorn strapped to my chest and wearing his tie-dyed onesie, stocking cap and with his omnipresent binky in his mouth. We had attached a cloth diaper to the front of his carrier emblazoned with the hand-painted words, “Mr Bush, Don’t Kill Iraqi Babies.”
There were several impassioned speeches at a hastily arranged stage, but we couldn’t hear them over the crowd noise. After about a half-hour, maybe an hour, the rally morphed into a march and the huge mass of protesters quickly overwhelmed the rush hour traffic in Chicago’s Loop.
I remember the next couple of hours as a series of cinematic snapshots: the sight of thousands of silhouetted marchers trudging through Grant Park at dusk; a crowd of people pouring into the stalled traffic of Lake Shore Drive as we are seemingly being welcomed by a large group of smiling police officers; the lines of peace activists parading between the eight lanes of honking, happy and supportive drivers who flashed peace signs and blared classic rock through their open windows; open sunroofs with cheering passengers sitting on the roofs of their cars; children leaning out the windows offering their hands to be high-fived by the marchers; Jane persuading officers to let her change her baby’s diaper on the hood of their police cruiser.
Along the way, our little parental group had been joined by another family with a baby not much older than six-week-old Xander. The baby’s hair had not begun to come in yet, and his Dad was holding a sign that said “Another Skinhead for Peace”.
After a couple of miles, the crowd turned inland at Oak Street and started marching west toward Michigan Avenue. For those of you unfamiliar with the Chicago landscape, this is at the north end of a famous tony shopping district called the Magnificent Mile.
There, the pleasant, empowered mood radically changed and we found ourselves surrounded on three sides by hundreds of black clad, heavily armored and helmeted riot officers, most of them holding large Plexiglass shields, and many of them carrying large backpacks with hoses connecting to large wands that looked like what you might find at a hand car wash.
For the first time that evening, we suddenly feared for the safety of our infants. We had clearly walked into a trap, and I could see the marchers at the front being herded single file south along Michigan Avenue. I was not sure how we could protect our tiny children from being pepper-sprayed or worse.
As the crowd began loudly shouting this wonderfully ironic chant, “We Just Wanna Shop! We Just Wanna Shop!,” our three families began inching our way through the crowd back toward the lake while trying to find an opening in the expanding wall of riot cops.
At last, there was a large enough space for us and about twenty others to squeeze through and sprint toward a pedestrian tunnel leading to the safety of Oak Street Beach, where we breathlessly watched to see if any police had followed us. None had.
Postscript: by 10:00 that evening, we had made our way to a popular pizzeria several blocks away where we could decompress, get a long delayed dinner and some drinks and see if we could find news of what was happening.
In the lobby area near the bar, there were large television sets showing the 10:00 news. While we were waiting for a table to open up, we watched in horror at the sight of hundreds of our cohorts being loaded into police buses. They kept repeatedly showing this one clip of a protester who had been grabbed from behind by a riot cop and reflexively swung around toward the arresting officer. Each time, the announcers would use that image to rant about the violent, uncivil mass of un-patriotic miscreants who had savagely invaded Lake Shore Drive. Several patrons in the room loudly echoed the ominous tone of the newscast in what seemed like a re-creation of the “two minute hate” scene from Orwell’s book,”1984.”
In the end, more than 800 protesters were arrested and jailed that night. By contrast, it would take more than a year to arrest that many January 6th insurrectionists.
(photo: Jane and I watch Justice give a pre-march pep talk to young Xander)
A s the social media manager of a robust vegan page and creator of much of the content we post, I get accused of being “woke” a lot. I can live with it. There are worse things to be called, that’s for sure.
Woke is a word rich with history that has been plundered from African American Vernacular English and culture, and conveniently repurposed as a weapon, purged of all real depth but shrieking with dog whistles, to be used against anyone promoting progressive, more equitable values: anti-racists, feminists, LGBTQ folks, peace activists, vegans, you name it. If something one has posted makes the average Tucker Carlson or Joe Rogan fan defensive and uncomfortable, it is likely to be described by them as “woke.” I’m going to stop using quotation marks around this word now because it’s getting clunky but I think you get my point: Speaking up against injustice is not and will never be an insult in my book. Yes, I guess that makes me, well, you know what. The antonym to sleeping.
Similar in some ways to how outspoken Black people were once referred to as uppity as a tacit but still loud form of social coercion to keep them in their place, “woke” is used as a broad brush to paint a message or a messenger as silly and undeserving of serious consideration. It’s a quick one-word, one-syllable dismissal, something even the most time-crunched of critics can do with minimal effort. Today, the word often applies to what was once labeled, also pejoratively, as “politically correct” until that expression became dated even for the folks who would be ecstatic to still be living in a Reagan-era time capsule. To detractors, wokeism is performative, immature and attention-seeking, it is being an insufferable social justice warrior (another term applied to progressive activists), it is the enemy of free speech and intellectual curiosity. On a more basic level, liberatory perspectives that make those who uphold the status quo deeply uncomfortable are sneered at as woke.
I actually understand this. The sense is that rights are limited, we only have so many, and recalibrating to level the playing field inevitably means that those accustomed to a certain place on the hierarchy may go down the ladder some. That gnawing, reactive fight-or-flight feeling in the pit of the belly to an unwanted point of view is angering so the offending message or messenger is branded as woke, but that uncomfortable feeling doesn’t go away. It is a natural byproduct of our competitive, white supremacist-aligned capitalist system; it’s understandable that those who have benefited due to some extra thumbs on the scale, and those who see rights as being in a finite supply, would feel anxious about losing status.
I totally understand this because we are all ultimately screwed over by capitalist values, very much including those who fight the most vociferously to uphold them, just like all but the very, very few are screwed over by patriarchal norms. Yes, this includes men who seemingly benefit from patriarchy: If they miss out on having a rich emotional life because everything but anger is a “gay” feeling and they are starved of the friendships that nourish us because platonic intimacy is threatening, how is that not harmful?
But none of this is my point.
My point is that I understand the reactivity. When repudiation is your quickest, most efficient tool, everything and everyone asking us to grow, challenge our presumptions and consider others gets labeled as wokeism. I want to say, though, this is a knee-jerk, ultimately futile effort meant to quash actual conversations about and movement toward progress and it is borne of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing status. Fear of the world changing. Fear of being left behind. Fear of your children and grandchildren rejecting your worldview.
When someone refers to progressive points of view as “woke,” I hear “I’m feeling scared” or “I’m afraid of losing status.” It’s understandable to be afraid. It’s rational to be afraid. But you don’t need to be. You can breathe instead. You can sit with what is happening in your body and your thoughts and not react for a moment, just observe. You can listen more and be humble to find your place and role in the reworking.
When you call me woke, I understand that what you’re really saying is that you’re afraid, no matter how angry you are, no matter how much you try to troll me, no matter how sarcastic, no matter your vitriol. You’re afraid. That makes sense. What is inexcusable, though, is to be totally incurious about your reactivity and to lash out at those people and ideas that are challenging your preferred norms.
The world is changing. The regressive figureheads you cling like to buoys to won’t stop that tide. The antidote to feeling afraid is to get genuinely curious: Just immerse yourself in curiosity of why you are reactive to progress. What lights up in your circuitry? What scares you?
Go ahead and call me woke, then. I know what you’re really saying.
by John Beske
Recently, the CBS famed news show 60 Minutes aired a powerful and terrifying segment called The Vanishing Wild that details the Sixth Great Mass Extinction – an event that is killing off thousands of entire species 100 times faster than is typical. Implicit in the story is that one of the species facing extinction is our own.
There have been five great mass extinctions in the last 440 million years or so. The most recent one was 65 million ago and it killed off all the dinosaurs, and the worst one being the Permian-Triassic Extinction of about 250 million years ago that wiped out more than 90% of the plants and animals on the planet. It took the world millions of years to recover from that one, but once it did, the new inhabitants were the first dinosaurs and the first mammals.
This extinction event is unique, though, in that one single species is deliberately and carelessly doing all the killing. The episode shows this in detail, but, like most documentaries about environmental catastrophe, it fails to address, or even acknowledge, the greatest villain of all – the animal agriculture industry.
Nearly two-thirds of the biomass (combined weight) of all mammals on Earth are cows, pigs or other animals raised for food. Most of the remainder are humans and only 4% are wild animals. 70% of the biomass of all birds on Earth are chickens or other birds raised as food. (source) More than half the land area in the US is used to either graze cattle or to grow food to feed them and the other animals we eat. (source) Yet, all these animals (plus all the fish and other sea creatures) provide only about 30% of the calories we consume. (source)
If we could somehow convince everyone to switch to an all plant-based diet (a big challenge, to be sure), we could grow all the food we need on less than half of that land, freeing up hundreds of thousands of square miles that could be converted back to its native prairie, forest and high plains ecosystems. This would massively increase the biodiversity and species preservation of these areas, and solve a huge host of other environmental woes in the process.
For example, in the Western states of the US, millions and millions of acres of land are used to raise one single species – cattle. To protect these cattle, or more accurately to protect the profits of the ones raising these cattle for slaughter, most of the original inhabitants of these lands – all the deer, bears, wolves, eagles, beavers, etc – anything that threatens or competes with the land or water, are routinely exterminated – shot, trapped, or poisoned – often with help from the US government. This land is commonly called by its exploiters “wasted space” that serves no purpose other than cattle grazing, but it is not wasted space at all. These areas were all deeply complex ecosystems that thrived for millions of years before being destroyed to raise cattle for cheap beef.
Preventing the Sixth Great Extinction doesn't require any new technology, tools or wisdom. All it takes is the willingness of a whole lot of people to put the lives of their future grandchildren and the survival of our species ahead of their desire to eat animals.
If you want to do something to help fight the Sixth Great Extinction, the best place to start is with your dinner plate.
And if you are considering switching to a plant-based diet, we have produced an excellent guide to get you started
Depending on where you live and when you read this, it may or may not be soup season but I am here to say that no matter the time of year or temperature, it can always be soup season. It all hinges on your willingness to explore the vast array of soups that can be cradled by your bowl because they really run the gamut, from light, brothy fare to thick, hearty chowders you can rest your spoon on without it sinking. Soup season is, after all, a state of mind.
With things moving into autumn in the Northern Hemisphere as I write this, we are heading into classic soup season, though. I have curated 35 vegan soup recipes that will take you through the calendar year.
. . .
Spicy Sesame Carrot Soup with Red Lentils via The First Mess
Pasta e Fagioli via Vegan Street
Creamy Tomato Soup via Loving it Vegan
French Onion Soup via The Curious Chickpea
Chicken Noodle Soup via Karissa’s Vegan Kitchen
. . .
Olive Garden Minestrone via Midwest Foodie
Cream of Mushroom Soup via Connoisseurus Veg
Creamy Wild Rice Soup with Seitan via Cadry’s Kitchen
Easy Egg Drop Soup via Nomss
Creamy Potato Leek Soup via Vegan Huggs
. . .
The Best Hot and Sour Soup via Woon Heng
Creamy Broccoli Chowder with Garlic Croutons via Forks Over Knives
Tortilla Soup via Be Plant Well
Garlic Pepper Soba with Chili-Roasted Tofu via The First Mess
Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup via The Vegan Atlas
. . .
Tom Yum Soup via The Foodie Takes Flight
Mulligatawny Soup via Holy Cow Vegan
Clam Chowder via Nora Cooks
Curried Sweet Potato Bisque via A Simple Palate
The Best Borscht via Nirvana Cakery
. . .
Greek Lemon Orzo Soup via Vegan Cocotte
Authentic Miso Soup via Okonomi Kitchen
Split Pea Soup via Eating Bird Food
Corn Chowder via Simple Veganista
Creamy Sausage and Potato Soup via Rabbit and Wolves
. . .
Easy Alphabet Soup via It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken
Louisiana Gumbo via Not Enough Cinnamon
Cheesy Cauliflower Cashew Soup via Veggie Society
Caribbean Greens and Beans Soup via Robin Robertson
30-Minute Smoky Black Bean Soup via Budget Bytes
. . .
Vegetable Barley Soup via From the Comfort of My Bowl
Hearty Lasagna Soup via Dianne’s Vegan Kitchen
Vichyssoise via Go Dairy Free
Best Ever Gazpacho via Delish
Sweet Cherry Soup via Vegetarian Times
. . .
Spoiler alert: They’re not food. Also: They include parasitic arachnids.
Yay, picnic season is upon us!
We already know that the food (including at least eight kinds of hummus and one tabouli) and the libations (whatever they are, you’d best have a reusable mug with you unless you want to drink out of your cupped hands) are important to a vegan picnic but when it comes to leveling up your experience, have you given much thought to the non-comestible extras that will really make your day perfect? Consider packing along some of these suggestions to make your next vegan picnic the best it can be.
• Big vegan flag
You’ll want a big ol’ vegan flag you can immediately stick into the earth so your picnicking neighbors will immediately get the message and grill dead bodies somewhere else, maybe downwind from you. Never miss an opportunity to make a statement and be seen, right? A proud v-flag flapping in the breeze will do it.
• Cruelty-free sunblock at highest possible SPF
How high does SPF go? Get that. It’s important to protect our skin and being as pale as possible really helps us to reinforce some fun stereotypes about vegans so we can disarm people and make inroads with them. If expectations are low, how can we help but exceed them?
• Folding table
Not for sitting, silly, it’s for your lit! You bring educational materials everywhere with you, right? Because it’s picnic day, you can take a break from actively leafleting but why not set up a table with some vegan lit for a little easy outreach? Pack along some big ol’ clunky rocks to hold your pamphlets in place and you’re golden! This is what we call firing on all cylinders.
• Citronella soy wax candle.
Get yourself a big-ass – like the size of a small charcoal grill – citronella candle with as many wicks as possible to non-violently keep the mosquitoes at bay as those bloodsuckers don’t differentiate from vegan allies and regular ol’ meat-eaters so we are all at risk.
• Lone Star ticks
Speaking of at risk, we are against keeping animals in captivity or exploiting them, but if you have some Lone Star ticks who need a little day trip, why not pack some along to surprise and delight your picnicking neighbors? Pretty soon, those steaks and ribs won’t be so appealing.
Just kidding. This is satire. Except for the ticks. Okay, I’m still kidding.
OR AM I??????
Bad Vegan: A Misleading Title But Important Story About Coercive Control and Disinformation
I remember hearing about Pure Food and Wine in the early days, probably shortly after they’d opened in 2004. Arriving before the era of social media but sharply predicting it with their beautifully-plated raw vegan dishes that called out for proto-influencers and their cameras, the buzz around Pure Food and Wine was hard for someone who tracked vegan culture to avoid.
It was a raw foods place, yes, but elevated to an almost comically paradisiacal level, showcasing dishes that were not plates of beige, tangled sprouts and zucchini splashed with Bragg Liquid Aminos but something altogether different. Somehow, they single-handedly and immediately transformed any outdated hippie associations: Using mandolines, blenders and the ingenuity of very talented, visionary chefs, raw fruits and vegetables were suddenly sexy, they were global, they were works of art on a ceramic canvas, they were voluptuous and they were sleek, they were tantalizing, they were It.
You could see the lifestyle promised in the cookbook collaboration between Pure Food and Wine’s original founders, Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis, the once-golden couple whose images were scattered on the glossy pages like so many macadamia nuts: A shimmery duo with colorful and alluring recipes that seemingly pulsed with radiant plant lifeforce, which might also be bestowed upon those of us who prepared their recipes. It was not just food, but jewel-toned juices and kicky cocktails in elegant glasses. And not just food and beverages but a peek inside Pure Food and Wine with its leafy patio dotted with pretty lights, a magical place to gain entry. I never had a chance to go but from my home in the Chicago suburbs, I leafed through their cookbook, which managed to elevate raw foods to new heights, no small task, something we hadn’t managed to do yet with just regular ol’ vegan food. I don’t know if I ever made one of the recipes but I sure felt the inspo before I ever heard the word.
. . .
Like so many others, I have just watched the new four-part documentary series on Netflix, Bad Vegan, which documents the downfall of Pure Food and Wine and Sarma Melngailis, as well as many others whose investments or paychecks were tied to the restaurant and its offshoot business, One Lucky Duck, all due to the maddeningly incomprehensible influence of a scammer seemingly straight out of central casting, hired to play a Looming But Still Pathetic Bad Guy in a direct-to-video production.
Oh, at this point I should say that spoilers abound here. Heh.
There are too many dizzying details to go into here but the long and short of it is Sarma – smart, level-headed, everything-going-for-her Sarma – became entangled with this man, known at first as his alias, Shane Fox, and later by his birth name, Anthony Strangis. Perhaps it is her overall flat affect, but Sarma, in both her testimony and in recordings taken at the time, never seemed all that taken by him. In fact, many times she seemed as mystified as to what this man was doing in her life as did her employees, who seemingly admired Sarma and thought of her as a kind of cool mother figure. Strangis, though, preyed upon her vulnerabilities to the point where she could variously be both deeply skeptical and desperately hopeful that he would come through with his promises if she only met his demands for an endless supply of money transferred. Soon after the series starts, we learn that when Sarma and Matthew Kenney broke up and could not work in the same environment anymore, she was offered by their investor to buy Kenney out so she had a $2 million debt to him. This was hanging over her from the beginning but the restaurant was successful. Pure Food and Wine was making money from the start, and banking on Sarma’s allure and vision, a clear path ahead of lucrative but realistic opportunities and success was splashed out ahead of her and the brand like the proverbial Yellow Brick Road. She was on her way. Then, in 2011, she met Strangis.
On paper, none of it makes sense. In hearing the tale, even with the probing questions of an interviewer behind the camera, it remains frustratingly abstruse. Shane/Anthony was supposedly a mercenary type, working in black ops as a secret agent and paid handsomely for his dangerous operations work overseas. He would take care of Sarma’s debt and somehow grant Leon, her beloved rescue dog, immortality but first, she had to be tested, she had to prove her commitment. Sarma had to give him large sums of money, funneled directly from the restaurant. She had to submit to his seemingly random tests where “everything would suddenly make sense” and move on when it never did. She had to give him access to all her communication passwords, from her cell phone to her email. She had to do these things while he disappeared for weeks at a time. Marrying Strangis was the easiest way for the $2 million to be transferred to her fully, so at some point, she did that, too, though that money never arrived and her loans to him kept accruing.
It’s confusing for people, including myself, because Sarma was never a chanting, beatifically-grinning Manson girl or wild-eyed, obsessive Hubbard devotee to Strangis. She is almost unerringly dry and matter-of-fact with a little touch of gallows humor. He roped her in not by sweeping her off her feet with grand romantic gestures but with promises of settling her debt and making her business aspirations come true, which he intimated would make that initial $2 million debt seem like pocket change, and he strung her along, continually rearranging the goal posts and making ever-more outlandish promises and excuses, some as to be of epic proportion, to keep her supply of cash coming in. Because her business goals were also tethered to her passion for helping the animals and creating a better world, it was a heady combination ripe for manipulation: She was personally desperate to settle her debt to her restaurant investor, and she was mission driven to make her brands a success and her altruistic goals accomplished. The relationship was a transactional means to an end, not a romantic coupling, and she was at least clear-eyed about that. From the recordings, it appears he was clear on this, too.
. . .
Things get fuzzy when other people without fault are pulled into the riptide of grifters like Strangis, especially as Sarma was the vehicle for him scamming them. She made some terrible decisions, the kinds of decisions made by people who are desperate and clinging to false hope. The choices she made hurt employees whose wages Strangis gambled away, investors to the Pure Food and Wine business and those close to her, like her mother. Ultimately, her entanglement with Strangis amounted to more than $6 million from the aggregate of those owed money. How could such a level-headed woman, one with a background in finance and an Ivy League education, one who gave the impression of being a mission-based entrepreneur, lead herself and those around her to such ruin at the hands of this common grifter?
She had to know what she was doing, seems to be the refrain I see again and again in the court of public opinion. She obviously was a scammer, too, just like him.
. . .
I am going to offer my opinion on this messiness with the caveat that I am not a psychologist. I am also not an expert on cults or abusive relationships. I can read and research as well as anyone else, though.
I think what we have here, among other things, is a case of coercive control and the sunk cost fallacy. Coercive control, which is a criminal offense in the UK, is described by Bristol, England-based Women’s Aid charity as, “...An act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim. This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.”
Have you ever tried to understand Scientologists when they describe why they’ve signed over their lives to be indentured servants to Sea Org? Did you ever try to listen to the more affluent ones explain why they’ve sunk millions into the organization? Why they isolated themselves from friends and family who were not Scientologists? I have watched most episodes of Leah Remini’s excellent series about Scientology and I am no clearer on what the organization offered in exchange except for some hokey fairy tales about personal liberation from a two-bit science fiction writer and grade A conspiracy theorist.
But why did you join? Why didn’t you leave? Was anyone holding you hostage?
None of it makes sense. Stop trying to make it make sense.
As I mentioned, I believe there is the added aspect of the sunk cost fallacy, which comes into play often with cults and abusive relationships. Sunk costs are not always drained finances as with Sarma, but often deep personal costs of time (“But I spent so much time there…”), the cost of a damaged reputation (“No one trusts me anymore…”) and/or sacrificed relationships (“I’ve alienated everyone and I have no one else left…”) that keeps people in cults and relationships that are steeped in coercive control. Want to better understand the sunk cost fallacy? Look no further than multi-level marketing scams like LuLaRose or Amway, a $35.4 billion industry in the U.S. where 99% of people not only never make money, they lose money, ever pulled in deeper by the money they have lost in pursuit of making a living.
I am not saying that Sarma Melngailis should not be held responsible for the bad decisions she made – and she made plenty – and the debts incurred during her time with Strangis. I am also not saying she should have no burden of personal responsibility or the trouble to her conscience because that’s not for me to say, though I do hope she finds a way to ease those and find self-compassion. Dismissing what happened as one woman’s foolishness is not only simplistic but losing an opportunity to learn more and try to understand the way that this kind of abuse and entrapment happens. (And let’s rid ourselves of the notion that smart people don’t get drawn into cults while we’re at it because intelligence has nothing to do with her situation or why someone would stay with an abuser or be attracted to a cult.)
. . .
Speaking of losing people to cults, have you noticed that we are living at a time when whole families are ripped apart after losing children and parents, siblings and partners to QAnon and Fox News’ disinformation campaigns? Scams are not limited to strangers with aliases who want your money. Scams are also disinformation purveyors who continually move the goal posts to keep believers hooked to ever more outlandish stories of elite pedophile rings being run out of pizza parlors that will be busted when Trump reveals the Deep State and the baseless notion of a stolen election despite all evidence to the contrary and their own lack of substantiation. As I write this, the same people who were claiming – again, baselessly – that coronavirus vaccines implant tracking devices have pivoted to the notion that Ukraine is a Nazi training ground that Putin is bravely going up against. The suspension of disbelief here is, well, as unbelievable as the fact that smart, accomplished people like Sarma Melngailis could keep hanging on by her fingernails for a glimpse of what she’d been promised but that doesn’t make it any less real.
This is why I, with a background in the creative arts, someone who always felt more comfortable in the realm of the imagination than “real” life, am now fully allergic to anything that even has the merest whiff of disinformation and conspiracism. It is not innocuous. Disinformation is not a difference of opinion. It is an intentional attempt to manipulate, deceive and mislead. Disinformation warps your brain and gaslights you to the point of absolute brainwashing,
It is easy to look at Sarma Melngailis and tsk-tsk at her for what she did but when are we going to look at the deadly, deeply harmful disinformation that is now stitched into the webbing of our society and is often written off as a simple difference of opinion? My point is, does this so-called open-mindedness that is treasured by the people of this country make us all more vulnerable when a Strangis is at our personal door?
. . .
Last, just a couple of small gripes with the documentary, which I think was, on the balance, well done. The title is clickbait, pure and simple. Sarma was a vegan, yes, but she remains dedicated to her vegan values and as she was under the thumb of coercive control, we should take that into consideration when we determine if the decisions she made when she was with Strangis mean she is a bad person. In addition to being clickbait, it points to the animus the general public feels towards vegans and the schadenfreude they delight in when we’re given our comeuppance or revealed to be hypocrites. It was also annoying to me when one of the people interviewed, the journalist who’d written about the debacle for Vanity Fair, characterized vegans as being inclined to believing crackpot notions. That is an unfair, broad brush treatment and thankfully it was short but should have been omitted as it was one man’s opinion that contributed nothing to understanding what happened with Sarma and Pure Food and Wine.
Oy, I see I have written a lot here. Anyway, lots of thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think.
But I have one last thought: Another important topic to explore is also the role of white privilege and investors’ obsession with the combination of conventional good looks and gumption that means people like Sarma as well as Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, Adam Neumann of WeWork, the dude-bros of the Fyre Festival and so on usually have no shortage of people eager to finance them and indulge their prosperity gospels.
Okay, I’m done.
My partner, Marla Rose, and I have been working together to try and expand the vegan community for more than a quarter-century, and a few people have referred to us as OG (original gangster) vegans, which is a term I accept with pride and humility because there were obviously so many who came before us. During all this time, we have spent a great deal of time pondering the meaning of the word that drives our philosophy and our life’s work.
Pretty much since the beginning, we have been taunted by people questioning our commitment and understanding with non-questions such as, “Aren’t those shoes leather?” or “What about all the mice who die in a wheat harvest?” These barbs were almost universally tossed at us from carnophilic trolls who then quickly disappeared into the crowd or the ether.
Lately, though, these trolls have largely been replaced by “Veganer Than Thou” trolls, most of whom loudly claim that we should stop calling ourselves vegan, because we support the covid vaccines. Their claim is that since these vaccines have been tested on animals, that anyone who takes them, or, worse yet, actually supports them (egads!) is not only not vegan, but is the sworn enemy of the animals we purport to save. Our comment threads have contained many missives such as these, including some who have demanded that we change our name from Vegan Street to something like Veganish Street.
So did we betray the vegan movement by getting our covid shots? Let’s think about that.
The reason the covid vaccine was tested on animals is that the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) requires that all medicines, medical procedures and anything of medical significance must be tested on animals. Indeed, this is true not just in the U.S. but of the medical organizations that regulate and oversee every country. This applies not only to life-saving medicines like penicillin or insulin, but also such common products as aspirin and antacids. Yes, all of these products must, by law, be tested on animals.
And it’s not only medicines. If you eat any food that contains any ingredient developed in the last 60 years, that ingredient has been tested on animals. That pea protein found in so many great vegan products? Some laboratory animals somewhere once suffered in its development and release.
Is all this animal testing absolutely necessary for human health? This is arguable, and we would certainly argue that it is not. There are far more modern and accurate methods to determine safety. However, we can make a far greater difference by publicly challenging the vivisection and seeking and promoting alternatives than we can by not eating veggie burgers or taking a vaccine.
And what about all the many other ways that animal exploitation has invaded our lives? If you drive a car or ride in a bus or on a bicycle, the tires beneath you may well have been made using animal-derived stearic acid. Or that label on your jar of olives or peanut butter is likely held in place using a glue that contains whey. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of products we use regularly that contain ingredients or processes of animal origin.
Even if you are eating a full-on whole-foods-plant-based diet, the commercially grown fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes you eat were almost certainly grown using animal manure, and very likely were at some point treated with pesticides. You could perhaps provide all of your food from your own veganic garden, but even then, it’s pretty difficult to till the soil without occasionally slicing into an earthworm.
So is it possible to live a 100% purely vegan life? It doesn’t appear so.
. . .
How can we make peace with that? Do we just throw up our arms, give up on our values and start eating animals again?
It turns out that the answer to that question is as old as the word “vegan” itself. In 1944, when the absolute OG vegans, Donald Watson and his colleagues at the newly formed Vegan Society were asking the same questions I’m asking here, they came up with what is probably the best definition of veganism ever, one that both the UK and US Vegan Society still use today, and that is embraced by many other groups, including us at Vegan Street. Here it is in its entirety:
"Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
The key words for our purposes here are “as far as possible and practicable.” They realized that they lived in a world where eating and exploiting animals was the accepted norm and that it simply wasn’t possible to avoid this exploitation altogether .
For us, those words mean that it is not responsible to practice a kind of purity of veganism that promotes harmful, dangerous behaviors during a global health crisis of the magnitude we have been experiencing for the past two-plus years.
The OG vegans believed that if ending animal exploitation that were even possible, it would take many decades at the least before veganism would dictate policy. It will likely take many decades yet, even though there are a great many of us working to bring this change about.
Until that day comes, let’s all just be as vegan as possible and practicable. That much is a lot.
To my darling Ruby-Mae, also known as Ruby, Rubily-Boobily, Roto-Rooter, the Rooster, Rue and Ru-Ru (so far) -
Happy first birthday, baby!
I realize as I sit here that I have never had an animal where I knew their actual birthday before you. All my other animals have been rescues with nebulous-at-best origin stories, usually strays, so we just celebrated our “gotcha” days, which is a perfectly lovely tradition but I have also been embracing the novelty of having this extra bit of information. I have also not regretted adopting our other animals as adults one iota (save for our Clara Bow, found in our backyard as a newbie kitten) but there is also little bit of longing attached for me to have been able to at least see a picture of them as babies. With you, it was different. I not only got to see you as a puppy this past year but experience you and all those needle teeth, those sweet little grunts, that soft belly, those floppy ears, that delicious puppy breath. Even your poop, even in unwanted places, was adorable.
You came into my life when I was at a crossroads of trying to decide if I was able to take another chance at love, at trust, at vulnerability, at possible heartbreak after a profoundly traumatic, sudden loss that capped off two very difficult and stressful years.
Ruby-Mae, our lives together started like this: On February 16, a friend (you might remember her, Stacey), who crossed state lines to rescue your pregnant mama Lulu, posted that four puppies had been born in her home. (Stacey thought that was it but two more would follow, making you one of six.) You were part of the first four, Ruby. Somehow Stacey’s post made it to my eyes. I lingered on it for a minute then closed my laptop. I wanted to pipe in but I also know my tendency towards leaping before I look. I also didn’t know what to say and my heart was just so tender. I went back. In my mind, seriously, I kid you not, in my memory, I returned to the post the next day. Nope. I just checked out the timestamp on that. Fifteen minutes after Stacey’s original post, I commented. To me, this took enormous self-discipline, not fifteen minutes, but nearly a thousand seconds of being calm and moderate.
Ever-so gingerly (even if it did not come across as such, I suck at playing hard to get), I intimated that if there were still households needed, I would toss my hat in the ring as a potential adopter. Stacey ever-so gingerly acknowledged my comment with a thumb’s up circled in blue. I put this interaction in the back of my mind, telling myself little clichés that managed to be true: “If it is meant to be, it will be.” “At the very least, I know my heart is ready to adopt again.” I tried to put it out of my head and just carry on. Meanwhile, I was dreaming up names, making more room in my heart for you.
Fast forward to March 21, when you and your littermates started being introduced. As you were born on Mardi Gras, your initial names were all New Orleans-centric, and you were originally Roux, future Ruby-Mae; your picture was in my feed, though I still didn’t know if I would be an adopter of you or anyone else. On March 28, I got word from Stacey that if I were still wanting to adopt, she had a puppy in mind for our family. Did I still want to adopt? The puppy was you, soft face, floppy ears, cutest paws, your expression a little tentative but confident, too, the sassy head tilt, easily held skyward by Stacey’s gentle hands. I stared at your picture. I gasped at every little whisker and obsessed over your sweet eyebrows. You were looking through the screen to me: “Mom?” I said, “Baby.” I said your name over and over until it morphed into Ruby-Mae. I was incredulous and it also felt as natural as anything has ever felt that we would click together like puzzle pieces.
I said yes.
. . .
Puppy love is a real thing. I already knew this but I remembered it in a more real way as I geeked out over your picture. The deeper love was to come but it was immediate. You nestled into me that blurry day as we drove home from Stacey’s house (April 13), and I knew. There was no doubt that we were meant to be and that you, in fact, had rescued me.
What can I say, Ruby? One way with countless examples is how you have helped to heal me: This year you experienced seasons, nature and life for the first time and I got to experience it through you. Your first swim. Your first flowering bushes in bloom. Your first Gay Pride parade walking past. Your first autumn. Your first sticks to chew up. Your first redbud pods. Your first acorns and pine cones. Your first walk in the woods. Your first animatronic Halloween display. (No likey!) Your first trick-or-treaters. (Same.) Your first leaf piles. Your first snow. Your first eerie tornado warning the first Tuesday of every month. Your unabashed curiosity and enthusiasm for life was a wellspring for me. I got to not just observe these things passively but look at and experience the world with fresh eyes, a less jaded perspective. This alone has been immeasurably valuable at a time when I was starting to get used to feeling more than a little numb inside.
One of the things I missed most about Romeo, your brother in the spirit realm, was how just looking at him, I could get a hit of dopamine. How he made me smile with all of his perfect ways: The way he bounded down the steps from upstairs to join me on my yoga mat in the morning; the way he looked when he was sun-dappled on the couch in my office; the way he sighed in his sleep; the way he curled behind and between my legs to sleep; the way he was an ambassador in our neighborhood, making all the good people feel special, especially the older ladies; the way I knew that even if it was A Very Bad Day, even when I came close to really disliking myself, he was an ardent fan. Losing him was losing a lifeline to everything: Not just the loss of this magnificent being who meant everything to me but losing all the endless, everyday magic he sprinkled on all of life.
You have endless, everyday magic, too, Ruby-Mae.
Your curiosity and intelligence. Your fierce self-confidence and loyalty. Your razor-sharp comedic instincts and dazzling sensitivity. You have given me this daily reminder: That this world, capable of profound suffering and unfathomable cruelty, could also create a being as exquisite as you. As Lorenz Hart wrote in “My Funny Valentine,” you make me smile in my heart. Every day of my life, I get to smile because you’re in it, Ruby-Mae.
Happy birthday, sweet girl. I am so grateful for you.
. . .
“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”
- Oscar Wilde
It is one of the most treasured tenets in the United States, but free speech has never meant consequence-free speech. While you won’t likely be imprisoned for your words, you can be sued for slander or libel and pay damages. Words can lead to pushback or even public uproar. A place of employment can determine that you are too big of a liability to continue being associated with because of the free speech you exercise; verbal abuse can lead to divorce. It isn’t a matter of suppression or censorship. Freedom of speech carries not only consequences to it but should be understood as a two-way street: Just as you can speak your words, people can receive and respond to those words within the framework of their legal rights, too, which includes satirizing, journalism, protests, boycotts and, well, there are nearly 200 forms of nonviolent activism that are recognized by the Albert Einstein Institution as options to the aggrieved. You have your right to free speech but that doesn’t mean it is free of repercussions.
As vegans, we know that freedom of speech cuts both ways and that we can promote veganism but expect that lawful recrimination is always on the table, especially in the era of social media. We know this. It is also a given – I think, at least – that if we spread exaggerations or misinformation, it is not only going to make people skeptical of us as trusted sources, it could result in retractions, removal of content and more. That is part of the responsibility we bear as part of this two-way street of communication. If there’s anything we should understand at this point of the pandemic, it’s that we don’t live in isolated bubbles. Our words and actions exist within a larger community and thus affects more than us as individuals.
This isn’t exactly news. You’d think it was, though.
Two incidents are popping up in my mind as recent examples of speech being free, yes, but not without consequences. One was pretty small in scope: The pushback I was happy to see about a meme that reinforces shaming (and misinformed) attitudes about disease and “healthy” vegan diets making you essentially bulletproof. Yes, they are free to post memes that promote such notions and critics are free to, among others things, call it out in the comments, unlike the page, or, heh, write critically about it. Them’s the breaks, as the phrase does.
Spotify and Joe Rogan’s recent controversy is another example. I won’t describe it because most people have already heard about it and if not, it’s easy enough to research, but I will say that I consistently saw people misunderstand and/or misconstrue the basic principles of free speech, censorship and the right to maintain standards. No one is owed a platform. If I submit an article to a publication and an editor finds that it is riddled with wrong conclusions and misinformation, the publication rejecting it is not an example of them censoring me. It is an example of the publication maintaining certain professional and ethical standards for what they put on their platform. In the example of Rogan, amplifying disinformation slingers and cultivating confusion to his massive listenership during a public health crisis the likes of which no one alive has ever experienced before, it is beyond simply differences of opinion or shutting down those who have a different point of view. Sowing confusion and spreading disinformation is demonstrably adding strain to our already overwhelmed front line workers and killing people. What Neil Young and now other artists are doing is leveraging the power they have on the same platform as Rogan to try to force their hand. Some, like Young, are more “Rogan or me,” and others, like Brené Brown, are asking Spotify to come up with a disinformation policy that is respectful of free speech, transparent and consistently applied before they will be available on the platform again. As consumers, we can decide to cancel a Spotify membership. As people in the world, we can get the word out and educate. Again, these are among the panoply of lawful and reasonable responses available to those disaffected by Rogan’s content. None of this is censorship.
There are a range of consequences to speech; unlike the disinformation spread by Rogan and company, it is not deadly. The fact that consequences exist to speech is not silencing or suppressing. It is simply reality to anyone who is older than a toddler.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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