Max

Rhubarb. Icthyology. Ethics. 

Max Elder might tell you that he does all that’s easy about activism and academia and none of the hard stuff. However, when he isn’t being self-deprecating, he will admit that he works in philanthropy and that he studies and writes on animal ethics. He is a board member of Thinking Animals United and is a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

Image by Luke Elder

Image by Luke Elder

Did you grow up in a vegetarian household or was that a Max Elder specific choice?

I did not grow up in a vegetarian or vegan household.

How did the plant-based movement come onto your radar then?

It was not until Freshman year at Kenyon Collegein an Intro to Logic class in the Philosophy department. All the students had to go through a set of logic questions in which someone made a claimgenerally somewhat of an outlandish claimand we had to evaluate the claim logically and come up with a reason for why the claim was either valid or invalid.

Of course, one of the philosophical arguments used for this exercise was about the ethics of eating meat, a classic argument for vegetarianism; I took it home, and read through it, and tried to think about why it was invalid, and just couldn’t do it.

Ascension Hall, home of the Philosophy Department at Kenyon College    Image Source: The Kenyon Thrill, Courtesy of Greenslade Special Collections and Archives

Ascension Hall, home of the Philosophy Department at Kenyon College

Image Source: The Kenyon Thrill, Courtesy of Greenslade Special Collections and Archives

I came up with all these reasons for which the argument might be invalid, but they were all faulty logicor appeals to tradition, or to religious beliefs, or to Aristotelian views of nature that seemed antiquated, these pre-Darwinian notions. So I could come up with lots of reasons why the argument might not make sense, but none of them jived with what I thought was the worldview of the 21st century.

You come to the plant-based movement from an animal rights perspective, but in your work and your writing, you focus specifically on fish. What is the origin of that particular interest and what compels you to write in this space?

It’s not a sexy origin story, unfortunately. I was studying at Oxford and a professor of mine was an editor of a journal, and he asked me to write an article for the journal. At first I didn’t think that I had anything novel to say. Period. But then later in the dining hallI had just mentioned this and just finished explaining that I didn’t think I had anything novel to say, when I got into an argument with the person sitting next to me about pescetarianism. 

She was eating fish, and she was arguing that fish don’t feel pain and making all these other claims that I thought were incorrect, rationally and scientifically etc. And she said, “Ok well, I would like to see that research. I would like read that journal paper, if it exists.” And I said, “Okay, well then I will write it.”

dead-fish.jpg

And then after starting to do research and writing that journal paper, I realized that very few people in the world were thinking about this topic in a systematic way. There were a handful of scientists at universities across the world that were actually doing research in fish pain, but [almost] no one was reading that research. The few people that were reading that research weren’t thinking about it in a holistic wayabout the implications of the scientific underpinnings to guide human behavior. It seemed like a huge gap, and then, once I started thinking deeply about it, I just fell down the rabbit hole.

Rabbit-hole-ocean-unsplash-sean-brown

Do you study fish because you feel like it’s one of the biggest problems or just because it’s one of the most explorable problems?

For both environmental reasons and for moral reasons, I am convinced that it is, in fact, one of the biggest problems. Fish have not been and are not viewed in the same way as terrestrial animals are viewed. The fact that fish haven’t been valued in the same way poses a lot of serious issues, one of which is that (unlike farm animals for consumption) we really don’t know how many fish are killed in the world annually. Although different governmental agencies track those numbers, they all have their own methodological flaws. For example, none of them accounts for bycatch.

Lots-of-fish.jpg

And for those who don’t know, can you explain what bycatch is and what the numbers look like around that?

Yeah, it’s sad. Bycatch is when you’re fishing in the wild and you catch a nontarget species. In other words, you’re fishing for bluefin tuna, or you’re fishing for shrimp, and you end up catching a whole lot of other sea life, primarily because of the method by which you are fishing.

Sea turtle off the coast of Brazil tangled in a gillnet    Image Source: Projeto Tamar Bazil, Image Bank

Sea turtle off the coast of Brazil tangled in a gillnet

Image Source: Projeto Tamar Bazil, Image Bank

In the United States, at least, shrimp is the most consumed seafood. And shrimp is also one of the most unsustainable types of seafoodparticularly in terms of bycatch. Shrimp are really really small, and to catch shrimp, we have to use big nets with tiny holes. Therefore we also catch everything bigger than the shrimp.

Generally for every one pound of shrimp, we catch about nine pounds of other species. Most of this bycatch is dead on arrival—it takes hours to fill these huge nets, and it’s tremendous pressure. And if the bycatch isn’t dead, it’s severely wounded. Not to mention that there are regulations around industrial fishing, so people who have permits to shrimp, cannot legally take other species. They can’t even use the bycatch. And they wouldn’t want to use it. They want to fish for shrimp. They have limited space in the boat.

Image Source: Oceana | Our Endngered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them

Image Source: Oceana | Our Endngered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them

Not to split hairsbut just because I’m curiouswhat do you consider to be the functional moral distinction among land animals, fish, bees, and bivalves? I know that you are fine with eating honey; you’re fine with eating oysters and mussels. There are some vegans who fall down hard on the other side of that line, so where did you make that distinction?

On some level there is no agreed upon definition of vegan. I have a plant-based diet for moral reasons, and those moral reasons lie in the fact that we should be reducing unnecessary animal suffering. Packed in that then is a question about which animals can suffer.

Can Oysters Suffer?

There are plenty of reasons to conclude that mammals feel pain. There’s great evidence for birds feeling pain, and I think that similar evidence indicates that fish can feel pain. But at some point a line has to be drawnfor example, I don’t think that plants feel painand so the difficult question is where that line falls. There are biologically necessary conditions:  you need to have nerves; you need to have some sort of processing system, like a brain; and thenthe trickiest necessary conditionyou need consciousness.

Actin Filaments in a Mouse Corical Neuron in Culture    Image by Howard Vindin

Actin Filaments in a Mouse Corical Neuron in Culture

Image by Howard Vindin

Nerves, and nervous systems, and even a brain are not sufficient for suffering; the necessary condition (that I think insects lack and bivalves lack) is consciousness. Semantically it becomes thorny here, because “pain and suffering” are conflated. Strictly speaking, The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as a conscious experience with two parts: a sensory element and an element of emotional feeling or suffering. The heart of this problem falls between the differences of these two elements: the sensory and the emotional. In my opinion, it’s only morally relevant when that initial sensory pain rises to the level of consciousness that causes emotional suffering. For example, when I touch a burning cast iron on my stove, my hand responds immediately by pulling back

—in the spinal cord—

Image Source: Michael Wrock, Medical Researcher | Reflexes

Image Source: Michael Wrock, Medical Researcher | Reflexes

—yeah, in the spinal cord. To anyone else looking at me in that split second, they would think that I’m suffering. But the first immediate moment of sensory response to a noxious stimulus is not morally relevant, because I haven’t consciously felt it. The morally relevant aspect of that experience is when I become conscious of that noxious stimulus and how it is hurting me, which happens almost immediately after. So quickly that it’s hard for us to notice the difference between the two. But even we, as humans, respond to noxious stimuli before they cause us to suffer emotionally. 

We call that a reflex.

Plants respond to noxious stimuli; computers can be programmed to do this; the fire alarm in my apartment responds to noxious stimuli. Insects and bivalves respond to noxious stimuli, but I haven’t seen any evidence that suggests that those responses are sufficient for moral consideration. I don’t know exactly where the line is, but I have an educated guess. When there is a lack of scientific consensus, generally I think we ought to use the precautionary principle to ensure we minimize the amount of potential harm we are causing with our actions. 

Image by Mary Allen, Chroma Kitchen

Image by Mary Allen, Chroma Kitchen

Many people view dietary choices as a personal matter that you should keep to yourself. Can you speak to the ways that this is a social choice and a political choice?

What’s unique about dietary decisions is that everyone makes them, and everyone makes them multiple times a day.

Unlike other decisions that might be political or environmental or religious, this is an action that we all take, and it turns out that this actionparticularly in modern timesis not considered critically. We don’t fully understand or even grapple with the inputsenergy, water, grain, even animal inputs.

Government subsidies artificially affect the supply chain and what people eat. What gets subsidized has nothing to do with what we should eat, but has everything to do with political incentives that don’t inherently have the environment, or our health, or animal welfare considerations at the forefront of those decisions. The true cost of our food is never reflected in what we pay for it, andbecause of various loopholes, lax regulations (or lack thereof), and subsidiesthis is more so the case with meat than other foods.

Image Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine | Agriculture and Health Policies in Conflict: How Food Subsidies Tax Our Health

Image Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine | Agriculture and Health Policies in Conflict: How Food Subsidies Tax Our Health

And then there’s this whole other political aspect. What I’m really interested in is this very fundamental, underlying notion of what it means to be a consumer, and what it means to consume flesh, and what it means to consume a body.

One of the best, most influential books that I’ve ever read is a book called The Sexual Politics of Meat by a woman named Carol Adams. The subtitle is: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.

Bloomsbury Revelations 25th Anniversary Edition, published October 2015    Image Source: caroljadams.com

Bloomsbury Revelations 25th Anniversary Edition, published October 2015

Image Source: caroljadams.com

Adams parallels the ways meat consumption is advertised and has historically been sold as a hyper masculine endeavor and howperhaps controversiallywomen’s bodies have been consumed by men, as pieces of meat, in the same way that animal bodies have been consumed.

There is a history of sexist and, tangentially, homophobic oppression in the act of meat consumption. This happens in various linguistic ways and social ways, but most persuasively perhaps are the ways that it manifests in advertising, and historically meat producers have advertised their meat in pretty egregious ways.

So anyway, there is a very interesting and not often discussed sexual politics that is involved, and it is real. If you were to categorize the average vegetarian or vegan like you would categorize the average democrat or republican in terms of identity politics, they are overwhelmingly LGBTQ compared to the population. They are also overwhelmingly female. And that can’t just be a coincidence; there is a reason for it, and there are many theories behind that. One of the more convincing ones is that there is this entrenched, socially constructed view that men are strong, and strong men kill things and eat them.

As someone who doesn’t prescribe to that heteronormative view of the world, it’s easier for me with my perspective and sexual orientation to not fall prey to those sorts of advertising ploys or social pressures. But it is, nevertheless, ubiquitous in advertising and in society in general. So the decision not to eat meat is political on many levels, both on a metathe ways in which food systems are designedbut also as a very micro individual level of identity politics. Having a plant-based diet is a daily political decision by some to fight against what people see as a deeply entrenched, heteronormative, and oppressive view of the world.

What is the best thing that New York has to offer a plant-based eater?

New York has lots of wonderful things to offer plant-based people. One is obviously plant-based restaurants, and there are plenty of them. Two is lots of people who have plant-based diets. Overwhelming, vegans live in urban areas, but there are lots of vegans in New York in particular.

Three is a lot of very interesting plant-based organizations and academic programs: NYU’s Animal Studies Initiative is terrific. They do a lot of work around food systems and veganism. New Harvest is an incredible non profit accelerating breakthroughs in cellular agriculture, e.g. trying to develop a post-animal bio-economy. To sum it up: very cool nonprofits, very cool academic institutions, very cool people, very cool restaurants, all of which are very conducive to living a plant-based life.

Vegan chef Jay Astafa rocking the catering scene    Image Source: jayastafa.com

Vegan chef Jay Astafa rocking the catering scene

Image Source: jayastafa.com

Who are the most exciting, and influential vegan chefs on your radar.

Oh no...I really don’t know enough. I went to an event with Jay Astafa catering, and it was delicious. But I don’t know enough vegan chefs to answer that in any authoritative way.

When you go to the farmers’ market, what do you return home with on a perfect day?

On the best day: beets, mushrooms, and rhubarb. And we always get shallots at the farmers’ market. They have delicious shallots.

Sundry mushrooms from Madura Farms at the McCarren Park Greenmarket    Image by Mary Allen, Chroma Kitchen

Sundry mushrooms from Madura Farms at the McCarren Park Greenmarket

Image by Mary Allen, Chroma Kitchen

I know you scored some rhubarb at the farmers’ market this weekend. What did you make with it this go-around?

We made a vegan almond rhubarb cake, and we have rhubarb to spare! Which might become cocktails. Two weeks ago we made these rhubarb cocktails that involved muddled rhubarb. And we also cooked down the rhubarb to make the syrup for the cocktail.  

Mad Lovely Rhubarb from Red Jacket Orchards at the McCarren Park Greenmarket    Image by Mary Allen, Chroma Kitchen

Mad Lovely Rhubarb from Red Jacket Orchards at the McCarren Park Greenmarket

Image by Mary Allen, Chroma Kitchen

What food brings you the most joy?

I love avocado. Avocado for breakfast. Avocado for lunch. Avocado for dinner. Avocado by itself. Avocado on things. Avocado in things.

Things in avocado…

I think I eat too much avocado.

Easy Avocado Boats by the Minimalist Baker (click for recipe)    Image Source: Minimalist Baker | Easy Avocado Boats

Easy Avocado Boats by the Minimalist Baker (click for recipe)

Image Source: Minimalist Baker | Easy Avocado Boats

But this is the season for it! Ok, last query: What is the biggest potential disruptor of the American food system, and what do you think is the ethical food movement’s most promising tool for change at this point?

Those are big questions...so I think technology by far has the biggest potential to be a disruptor, and there are plenty of technologies that are already being used or will be used to do really crazy things. There are all sorts of innovations in urban farming and vertical farming. And then of course, I think that culture technologies have true potential.

Cultured technologies involve growing animal (and non-animal) cells in a culture rather than in an animals. The golden snitch of these technologies is the cell-line that can be grown indefinitely. We’re not there yet, but the idea is that you could grow eggs without chickens. You could grow burgers without cows or fish sticks without fish. That, I think, will certainly be part of the future of food if not the future of food and will certainly change the game when it comes to animals used for consumption.

The first meatball made from cultured beef by Memphis Meats, co-founded by Uma Valeti, MD & William Clem, Ph.D    Image Source: Memphis Meats

The first meatball made from cultured beef by Memphis Meats, co-founded by Uma Valeti, MD & William Clem, Ph.D

Image Source: Memphis Meats

One of the most promising tools for change of the ethical food movement is actually virtual reality. A great animal rights organization called Animal Equality has filmed slaughter houses and built virtual worlds that you can explore with a virtual reality headset. This has a lot of potential, because it has historically been very difficult for the public to understand what's going on inside of slaughterhouses due to Ag-Gag laws and other restrictionsnot to mention the fact that most slaughterhouses are in the middle of nowhere. Studies have shown that the most effective way to convince people to become vegetarian or vegan is to show them how animals are treated in slaughterhouses. This is why Michael Pollan has famously saidand I paraphrase“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian.” I would argue that we would all be vegan, but Michael Pollan is a wuss. 

Image Source: Huffington Post | iAnimal: Virtual Immersion Into the Reality of Factory Farming

Image Source: Huffington Post | iAnimal: Virtual Immersion Into the Reality of Factory Farming

Virtual reality headsets have been called, “the ultimate empathy machines.” Animal Equality has had some success travelling around college campuses with these. They’re basically letting people enter slaughterhouses and letting people see how animals are killed. All that to say, I think virtual reality is going to connect people to the sources of their food in a way that people have never been connected before.

In some regard, this will revolutionize the dining experience: there will be cool new restaurants that are all about virtual or augmented reality. On the other hand, when it comes to animals production and the ethical food movement, I think it’s going to give a lot of those slaughterhouses glass walls.

 

Henry

Broadway Actor. Cereal Lover.

Henry Gottfried is a Harlem-based actor originally from Nashville, TN. He currently works on the Tony Award nominated musical Waitress and is a Scorpio-Libra cusp. Henry sat down with Chroma Kitchen to talk plants, cereals, and nutrition on a Broadway actor's schedule. 

Is it fair to say that you are vegetable-curious though you are not vegan? I've been vegetarian in chapters. I've been pescetarian in chapters. At this time in my life, I’m eating everything; no foods are categorically uninvited, but I’m definitely more than vegetable-curious. I’m vegetable enthusiastic.

When did you first start to pay attention to nutrition? Early ninth grade, I remember giving no consideration to what I was putting in my mouth whatsoever. This was the era of us eating cookie dough straight out of the tube, studying for exams. And then spring of ninth grade—which was around the same time that I came out too—I just became kind of self-conscious and body conscious (as two separate things—but at the same time). And so very suddenly, I became aware of what was on my plate. 

How has your conception of what healthy food is changed since ninth grade? Specific to ninth grade, but not for very long after that, I was just kind of preoccupied with portion control, “dieting,” in the most general sense of less intake. These days I have absolutely no concern about the amount of food that I put in my body. If anything, I feel like I could always do with more good food in my body.

Have your tastes grown since then? Both luckily and due to certain parenting, I’ve always had a very open mind...a very open palate. I was never a picky eater. I’m really open to eating anything and everything. And I always really liked veggies. We always had good vegetables in the fridge and in what my mom served. Vegetables were always a big piece of it.

Are there any foods that you wish you didn't love (but that you do love)? It’s not really a food, but—protein bars. I have a sense that I could do better for myself. But the combination of being always hungry and really lazy means that protein bars are always an easy solution. So I end up eating more protein bars than I need to. There are other ways to get good, filling, sustaining snack food, but I’m lazy.  

Backstage on the national tour of Pippin

Before Waitress, you worked on the national tour of Pippin for eight months. Did that mean you were operating without a kitchen all that time? In brief, it was basically a new city every week, a new hotel room every week. We always had a hotel mini fridge (with the exception of one horrible city). Everything else was completely unreliable. 

Did you end up eating out all the time or just eating ingredients from the grocery store? The latter. I’ve never been so consistent about what I ate than I was in those days: You go to the grocery store, and you know what you can fit in a hotel mini fridge, and you know what foods you will go through in a week. Fruits and veggies in the fridge, a lot of hummuscheese not so muchbut nuts and peanut butter, cereals...

Bad-ass acrobats in rehearsal for Pippin

Talk to me about cereal.  As you know, I have a long romance with breakfast cereals. For years running now, my go-to has been Kashi Go-Lean. Period.

For a while, it was Kashi Go-Lean Crunch, which is also very satisfying. But Kashi Go-Lean has more of a punishing, rabbit-food, cardboard kind of vibe to it, which I really really like. It’s lightly sweet, and it’s filling. Ugh, I love Kashi Go-Lean. 

The punishing, rabbit-food, cardboard vibe of Kashi Go-Lean
Henry Gottfried Broadway Debut

What are your thoughts on midnight snacks? Wow, you know, it’s very apt that you should be asking that right now. On the Broadway show schedule, it can be hard to eat a full dinner before the show, so you’re gonna eat a dinner part two (or dinner in the first place) after the show. I never used to care much about when I ate.

And then recently my voice teacher told me that he thinks I suffer from some light acid re-flux—it takes a while for my voice to get going during the day. In the mornings I have less range, and my voice just gives me a harder time. It’s pretty standard; most people suffer from some amount of acid re-flux, but high high highest on the list of behaviors to avoid is eating before bed. So I’m not anti-midnight snack, but it has become a "no" for the sake of vocal health. 

Henry Gottfried Mary Allen Waitress

I know that you are an expert cranberry sauce confectioner. Can you talk more about that family Thanksgiving tradition? Confectioner meaning that I am an expert at making it? I am so flattered. It is the easiest thing to make. You just boil the cranberries, and sugar, and water together. As far as I see it, the longer you boil it the thicker it’s going to be and the better consistency. Cranberry sauce is very important in my house: my dad has a...you could call it an obsession with the Ocean Spray canned stuff. It is an absolute non negotiable.

So we always have the Ocean Spray, and for many years now we would also have the cranberry sauce that we would make—strained through an old school food mill so that it has got the nice smooth consistency. And then we would do a whole berry cranberry sauce, or a cranberry relish, or a raw one with horseradish. You can’t have too many cranberry sauces. And let me also say that I have enjoyed a few post-Thanksgiving meals of just cranberry sauce with a spoon.

What is the most important object in your kitchen? I would say a rubber spatula is the end-all-be-all kitchen tool. And we loved a rubber spatula in our house growing up. My mom has a collection, all different shapes and sizes: the kind that has a scoopy spoon, the kind that’s just flat for like scraping down a bowl, the little ones for getting inside a jar. So my mom has supplied me with a few of those. I feel like no matter what I end up cooking, I end up using a rubber spatula.

What do you miss most about childhood in your mom's kitchen as well as your mom's cooking? I miss cooking with my mom, and I always want to do it when I’m home. She seems to me to be this infinite wealth of practical cooking knowledge. She has an amazing cookbook library, and she knows some stuff. But it’s less about crazy techniques and more just that she has practical answers for pretty much every kitchen quandary.

It’s a totally relaxed oral tradition. Cooking with her seems like something from a bygone era. It’s not fussy. It’s always tasty, and it’s just a little bit low stakes. I love learning from her in the kitchen, because it feels like such a fundamental way for a parent and child to connect.

Are there any maxims or phrases that you live by (food related or otherwise)? This comes from my mother, which is fitting: "You're only young once, but you can be immature forever."

Viola Spring Salad

Edible Flowers. Microgreens. Peaches. Cashews.

Edible-Flowers-Vegan-Spring-Salad

Eating flowers. It is pretty unforgivably bougie. I agree. However, it's worth the splurge every now and again, because many flowers are secretly delicious and amazingly nutritious! As a general rule of thumb when it comes to eating plants, the more vibrant the colors are, the more phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals will be packed inside. Flowers do big, bold color exceptionally well, so don't feel guilty tossing a few petals on your plate. Be smart about it thoughnot all flowers are in the mood to be eaten; don't just raid the garden (or, in my case, the landlord's planters and hanging baskets) willy-nilly. RN and author of Herbs for Life, Linda Mix, provides a great list of edible flowers here. 

This simple spring salad recipe is a nutritional powerhouse, featuring sweet peaches on a bed of spicy radish microgreens topped with violas, pansies, and raw cashews. The violas, pansies, and microgreens came to me by way of rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange. If you are what you eat, then you might as well eat flowers. 

Or be a peach. 

Or do both.

Edible-Flowers-Vegan-Spring-Salad

Serves two. Eat with a friend.

Ingredients

Salad

  • 2 cups radish microgreens
  • 1 handful violas and pansies, picked fresh 
  • 1 peach, cubed
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews, chopped

Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of sea salt

Preparation

  1. Assemble: Toss microgreens, peaches, and cashews in a bowl. Dress with olive oil, vinegar, and sea salt.
  2. Celebrate: Garnish with violas and pansies. 

Reasons to Love

  1. Microgreens: Both flavorful and adorable, these tiny leaves are generally harvested just one or two weeks after germination. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that the vitamin and carotenoid content of microgreens tends to be up to five times greater than their mature leaf counterparts. A little bit of leaf. A whole lot of power.  
  2. Edible Flowers: Petals are not just a decadent way to beautify your plate--although it certainly makes quick work of that. Where color is vibrant, micronutrients are almost certainly in abundance. Find a comprehensive list of edible flowers here.  
  3. Peaches: As fruit so often is, peaches are up on their fiber game! Vitamin A (good for your vision), potassium (good for your heart), and flavonoids (good for reducing free radical damage to your cells) also come bundled in this fuzzy orange package! If you were able to purchase an organic peach, leave the skin on to increase the antioxidant content of this dish.
  4. Cashews: These kidney-shaped 'nuts' are actually seeds! They contain not only heart-protective monounsaturated fat but also a wild amount of copper--1/4 C cashews is 98% of your daily value of copper, which is a potent antioxidant and a key nutrient for iron-utilization as well as bone and connective tissue development. 
Edible Flowers Higher res-6.jpg

Nani

PhD Candidate + Lover of Bean Salad

Nani-Durnan-Rutgers-Grad-Student

Who are you? I am Nani. Age: 25. Profession: graduate student and teaching assistant of writing composition at Rutgers University. I was born in Hawaii, grew up in Connecticut and then in Nashville. I went to college in Maine, lived in France for a while, and now I live in New Jersey. 

What’s your favorite green and what’s your favorite grain? My favorite green is arugula. And my favorite grain is the humble oat, of which I am a proponent. Lately I have found it really useful to put steel cut oats in savory dishes. For example a soup. Or a coconut curry with veggieskinda like rice, but more texture. 

Why did you start eating vegetarian? It’s a very millennial story. I saw a bunch of documentaries and read a bunch of different articles and just realized it’s probably terriblenot just for the environment, but also for peopleto be eating meat. I decided with Basyl, my boyfriend, that we would be weekday vegans over the summer and see what happened. But no, I couldn't quite do without cheese at this point in my life, although I am a nutritional yeast enthusiast. I eat vegan very frequently, but I’m in a flexible phase. I identify as veg-curious.

Nani-Durnan-Basyl-Stuyvesant

What are the three most important staple items on your grocery list? I travel a lot, so shelf-life is important to me. I love canned beans. They’re good for everything, you just have to give them a rinse and then they can be a bean salad, which is my particular specialty. 

The next item on my staples list is herbs. Super easy to grow (although I don’t because I kill everything I touch; my mother would be ashamed). Everything that you put herbs on is fancy automaticallyeven if that thing is just rice or that thing is just a salad dressing. So it makes me feel rich.

Herbs-make-nani-feel-rich

And the last thing I like is yogurt, which I know isn’t vegan, but it can be! Friends, I have sampled the vegan yogurts, and I’m here to tell you...well, that nothing is like the real thing unfortunately. But coconut yogurt is good. Almond milk yogurt tastes like boogers though, so don’t ever buy that.

What was growing up in your mom's kitchen like? I never really knew where my mom got her food philosophy from, because she grew up in the Berkshires, eating Wonder Bread. But I just discovered that my mom worked for the Cambridge CSA, when she and my dad were living in Boston in the 80s. She would take home whatever was in season and find a way to cook it! She says she cooked her way through the (vegetarian) Moosewood Cookbook in her 20s and has most of the recipes committed to memory. Mom has an amazing green thumb. So when I was a kid, we had giant patch—it was literally a farm—in the backyard in Connecticut. 

It was probably ten feet by ten feet, and we grew all of the vegetables. I would grow carrots for the summer, and Julia, my sister, would grow the parsley and the basil, which I was always jealous of, because you don’t have to do sh*% to grow herbs. It’s so easy. It’s not easy to grow the other stuff. 

Do you cook from recipes or do you wing it with whatever you have on hand? I firmly believe that you don’t need a recipe for most cooking. You do need a recipe for all baking. (I bake for my students sometimes, especially when they’re about to get bad grades.) 

I know when to follow a recipe, and I know when to diverge from a recipe according to what’s on hand. More often than not in my daily life, I just improvise. I start off with an ingredient that I like, and then I give it the things I want to eat on it. 

Do you and Basyl cook together? We do. We love to cook together. Although maybe one of my culinary goals this coming year is to be less obsessive and insistent in the kitchen. I do like things chopped in a certain way, and I think that chopping sizes affect how things taste...so I can be a little bossy...which can make things less fun. So even though I said that I’m super cool and easy and I love to improvise in the kitchen, things need to be chopped properly.

Nani-watermelon

What’s your favorite family recipe? It’s my grandmother’s recipe on my dad’s side, and it’s called Oatmeal Bread. It’s very New Englandy: it’s a molassesy, oatmealy bread, and it’s the world’s best vehicle for butter. But you can’t put anything on it other than a light spread, because the journey is the reward. If you could veganize that recipe…

Are there any foods that you wish that you loved but that you just can’t get behind? Yes. When I was a young child, my picky thing was that I didn’t like red food. (I didn’t like tomatoes. I used to not even eat red apples.) And I got over everything, but I can’t get over berries. I never have liked them, and I continue to not like them. I especially don’t like raspberries and strawberries. It has never been a problem though, because other people always eat them for me.

When did you first start thinking about nutrition? It was in high school. It’s actually kind of a weird way I came into it, because my mom was also a super hippie yogi. (Yogini, I should say, which is the feminine...does that sound more feminine to you?) She gave me this book on macrobiotics that she had just read. I think it was called like The Hip Chick's Guide toit was something super Barnes & Noble gimmicky, but I read it, and it was so interesting! I had always cared about what was healthy, because it tasted better. But it was the first time I ever thought about food having a connection to your mood. Macrobiotics is all about finding a balance in what you eat, so that your mood doesn’t get out of whack.

And it keeps coming up in different ways. A couple of years ago, I was learning about the Ayurvedic Doshas, where everyone has one of three Doshas: you’re Kapha, Pitta, or Vata.  What you eat has an effect on that personality type. You could get yourself out of balance if you’re Pitta (which is the fire signyou’re very ambitious), and you’re always eating super spicy, irritating foods. Instead, you need to eat foods that that are cooling—e.g. bitter, sweet, astringent.

Nani-Durnan-Vata

What’s your Ayurvedic Dosha and what do you need to eat? I am Pitta-Vata. So sometimes, head up in the clouds (Vata’s the wind sign). I have really dry skin, which is a Vata sign, but my skin tends to be red, which is a Pitta sign. And Pitta is fiery, very ambitious, very organized, and you get angry...which...you know I have a temper. I think I’m more Pitta than I am Vata. What it means is that I need to eat foods that are a little more basic...And to a certain extent all of this is BS, but these are just metaphors with which to think about why it matters that you eat what you eat.

Are there words you live by (or eat by)? The axiom, maxim, truism I live by is..."an apple a day." I do eat literally one apple per day.

Grapefruit Balsamic

Red Grapefruit. Balsamic Reduction. Gogi Berries. Slivered Almonds.

Grapefruit-balsamic-gogi-berries-almonds

Grapefruit is magic. 

Just one packs roughly 118% your daily value of vitamin C, along with a host of phytonutrients and antioxidants shown to help lower cholesterol, protect against cancers, and prevent kidney stones. Topping this wondercitrus with balsamic reduction, gogi berries, and almonds makes for a tangy departure from the usual morning routine. It's no wonder the Latin name for grapefruit is Citrus paradisi. 

Ingredients

  • 1 red grapefruit
  • 1/4 C sliced almonds
  • 1/8 C gogi berries
  • 2 Tbs balsamic reduction

Preparation

  • Divide: Cut the grapefruit in half. Section both halves of the fruit by cutting each pulp triangle away from the pithy, white inner rind on all three sides.
  • Conquer: Top each half with balsamic reduction, gogi berries, and almonds to taste. Consume with a runcible spoon
grapefruit-gogi-berries-balsamic

Reasons to Love

  1. Grapefruit is a marvelous source of copper, vitamin A, fiber, and potassium. Research indicates that grapefruit consumption is associated with reduced risk of colon cancer and prostate cancer, prevention of kidney stones, and lower LDL cholesterol. 
  2. Almonds are one of the best sources of biotin (sometimes called vitamin B7 and/or vitamin H). This B-complex vitamin is vital for blood sugar balance and for healthy skin. 
  3. Almonds also provide ample vitamin E, manganese, and copper; like grapefruits, almonds have been shown help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. 
  4. Grapefruits and almonds together make for a fiber-filled, heart-healthy morning. 
Grapefruit-gogi-berries-almonds-balsamic

5 Ingredient Granola

Oats. Almonds. Quinoa. Molasses. Sea Salt.

5 Ingredient Vegan Granola Blackstrap Molasses

This granola recipe is delicious, heart-healthy, vegan, and SO easy to make. It's also secretly full of vitamins and minerals: the key ingredient here is blackstrap molasses! Molasses is the nutritionally-dense by-product of refined white sugar. The iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium that get left behind when sugar cane is turned into boring white sugar all end up in this sweet earthy syrup. I am all about molasses these days. Read more about it here, and get on the bandwagon with me. And then make this easy 5 ingredient granola! 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups rolled oats (I deeply dig Bob's Redmill)

  • 1 cup raw sliced almonds

  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa

  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses 

  • sea salt to taste (optional) 

  • dried fruit to taste (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  • Prep: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a half sheet baking pan with parchment paper. 

  • Combine: Add rolled oats, almonds, quinoa, and molasses in a large mixing bowl, and mix. 

  • Taste: Check the quality of the above mixture using thumb, forefinger, and mouth. Add salt if you're the salting type. 

  • Toast: Spread oat-molasses mixture on parchment paper, and bake for 30 minutes. Give the ingredients a stir at the 15 minute mark. 

  • Embellish: If you're feeling fancy, sprinkle dried fruit on top of granola as it cools. To achieve maximally chunky granola, let it cool completely before digging in. 

 

Classic Avocado Toast

Lemon. Sea Salt. Crusty Bread. 

Avocado toast has become a staple on brunch menus around Brooklyn. Although it's painful to spend $8.00 + tax + tip for something so simple, I never manage to resist this healthy, antioxidant rich, vegan option. Never say no to a beautiful avocado. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 small avocado
  • 4 slices of crusty bread
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • Pinch of sea salt

PREPARATION

  • Pit and peel: Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Cut the halves in half again, and peel back the avocado skins. Transfer avocado pulp to a mixing bowl. *The dark  pulp closest to the skin is the most phytonutrient rich. Peeling the avocado in this way, rather than cutting the pulp out with a knife, allows you to retain the maximum amount of this nutrient dense pulp!*
  • Smash
  • Keep it green: Add lemon juice to prevent browning.
  • Toast:  Place crusty bread slices in toaster, and toast accordingly.
  • Slather: Spread the avocado smash + lemon juice on freshly toasted bread.
  • Salt: Sprinkle finishing salt atop.

REASONS TO LOVE

In addition to being a stellar source of fiber, avocados contain a magical combination of carotenoids and unsaturated fat. Humans and animals can’t produce carotenoids endogenously, so we have to get them from vegetables and fruits (like avocado)! Carrots, kale, and summer squash are all great sources of carotenoids, but the fat content in avocados facilitates better carotenoid absorption! Why is this great news? 

  • Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants with cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Carotenoids support eye health and a strong immune system.
  • Avocados taste delicious.

Vegan Walnut Pesto

EVOO. Garlic. Lemon. Sea Salt. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups basil, tightly packed
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts (with skins!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt to taste
  • lemon juice to taste (about ½ - 1 lemon)
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast

PREPARATION

  • Blenderize: Combine basil, walnuts, and garlic in a food processor until coarsely ground. Use the S blade and pulse setting for best results.
  • Mix: With the food processor's motor turning, slowly add the olive oil, followed by sea salt, juice from 1/2 or 1 whole lemon, and nutritional yeast.
  • Adore: Check the quality via spoon. Add more salt, perhaps.  

REASONS TO LOVE

While classic pesto stars pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and pecorino sardo, we swap in walnuts, nutritional yeast, and lemon for a heart healthy, planet friendly spin on the traditional Genoese spread. The subtle sweetness of the basil balances the tannins of the walnut skin and punch of the lemon, while enhancing the umami tones from the nooch. This vegan variation packs a nutritional punch as well. Research indicates that eating 1-3 oz of walnuts regularly...

  • Provides hard to find omega-3 fatty acids, many anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, and minerals important for blood pressure regulation (e.g. potassium, calcium, and magnesium).
  • Has been shown to support heart health by lowering cholesterol (both LDL and total), helping to regulate blood pressure, and improving blood vessel functioning.
  • Can reduce the risk of chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.

For further literature on the almighty wonders of walnuts, take a look at what the George Mateljan Foundation has to say about them! Though the perfect base for pizza or sweet potato pesto toast, in my opinion, this plant-based pesto requires only a spoon.