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Veganizing Recipes on Non-Vegan Food Sites… and Commenting On Them

By Visiting Animal — March 31, 2011

Gary Loewenthal is the mastermind behind the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, a grassroots movement that has taken the world by storm, last year raising $40,000 for animal rights causes. By the way, did I mention that we are doing one again this year and are seeking bakers? But I digress, because this blog entry is not about the bake sale. It’s about Gary and his unbelievably creative ways that he advocates for animals. (Did you catch him on our podcast last year? The man inspires…)

When I found out about Gary’s newest project — to create a movement of people veganizing recipes in the comments section of non-vegan food sites — I nearly choked on my cruelty-free cupcake. Rather than me writing about this brilliant form of armchair activism, I asked Gary if he would be so kind as to write a guest blog post about what the project is, and how we can all get involved. Maybe he was also high on sugar at the time, but somehow, he agreed.

Veganizing Recipies on Non-Vegan Food Sites — and Commenting on Them

by Gary Loewenthal

Background

Most nights I cook dinner, and often I search the Net for ideas on what to make. The two main types of food sites I run into and use are recipe sites and food blogs.

It occurred to me recently that if I veganized dishes on non-vegan recipe sites or food blogs, and provided feedback – especially positive feedback – on the veganized versions of the recipes, I might accomplish some mild but easy and frequent outreach:

  • The audience for my comments – from what I could tell – would be overwhelmingly non-vegan, and interested in food.
  • My comments could briefly describe how I veganized the dish, and probably introduce people to products such as seitan and Daiya cheese.
  • Cooks usually appreciate feedback on their dishes, so they would presumably have some interest in what I said.

New Outreach Project

I started doing this about three weeks ago. Although the project is still new, it may have a lot of potential, so I wanted to: a) report on how it’s going so far; b) see if anyone else is doing this; and c) encourage others to try it. It’s simple and non-confrontational.

Here are the basic guidelines I’m following, in an effort to maximize the outreach benefit from this endeavor. I have two caveats: 1) It’s still early, so this is subject to change; and 2) your results may vary.

Community

I decided that rather than hop from site to site, I would choose a small number of places and stick around there for a while, so I could become part of the community. The first two sites I chose were Mixing Bowl and Taste of Home. Each of these are fairly large mainstream sites – and profoundly non-vegan. Nearly every main course recipe has animal products, and most have meat. The top search term is often “chicken.” Veganism is essentially off the radar.

I’ve veganized several recipes on these two sites and given positive reviews. In fact, one of the veganized recipes – a pot pie using seitan instead of chicken – was the best pot pie I’ve ever had, hands down (click on “reviews” to see my effusive praise).

Selecting Dishes to Cook and Review

For the most part, I just browse and select dishes that sound good and look doable. But truth be told, I’ve been slightly favoring recipes where I substitute seitan for chicken. My thinking is:

  • The public is sort of familiar with tofu, but not with seitan.
  • Seitan is probably my favorite “meaty” food to put in recipes.
  • Since seitan is such a great alternative to chicken, the number of animals potentially saved if more people use this product is huge.

On the other hand, seitan – at least the ready-made kind – is not nearly available as tofu.

Usually I look for recipes that are popular or currently generating buzz, in hope that my review will be seen by the most number of people. Although there is something to be said for being the lone reviewer of a recipe, especially if the feedback is positive, if it was my recipe, I’d certainly take notice and appreciate the comments.

For now, I’m only giving feedback if I like the dish, because that seems like it has the most outreach potential. I wouldn’t totally rule out giving negative or so-so reviews, but on a decidedly non-vegan site, would viewers tend to attribute my disappointment to the fact that I wasn’t using “real” meat, cheese, or butter?

Citing Brand Names and Specific Varieties of Vegan Products

In my reviews, I say “Daiya Cheese,” “Tofutti Cream Cheese,” “Field Roast apple-sage sausage,” and so forth, rather than “vegan cheese,” “vegan cream cheese,” and “vegan sausage.” For better or worse, I think mentioning the brand name makes the products sound more legitimate to people for whom veganism is an alien concept. Affixing the brand name may also make the products seem more appealing and be easier to remember.

For clarity (and a little PR) I often add brief descriptions or shout-outs about vegan products I’m using (e.g., “seitan is a wheat gluten-based veggie meat that has a taste and texture very similar to chicken in recipes,” or “mashed banana is great in pancakes,” or “Veganaise tastes even better than egg-based mayonnaise”).

Avoiding Pro-Animal Product Terminology

In my comments, I say “veggie meat,” not “fake meat.” Often, what we call commonly call “meat” is an amalgam of flavors anyway, far removed from – excuse the directness – a hunk of raw flesh.

Likewise, I say “animal-derived deli slices,” not “real deli slices.” Tofurky is as real as the round, thin, packaged, flavor-enhanced slices of genetically modified turkeys who lived and died in hideously unnatural circumstances.

I avoid saying “regular milk” and say “cow’s milk” instead. The choice of words can be a subtle form of outreach in itself. I don’t want to perpetuate the notion that animal products are the standard and that non-animal alternatives are a deviation. I don’t want to use carnist language, as explained by Dr. Melanie Joy in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.

Preferring Large, Active Sites

Some non-vegan recipe sites and food blogs have huge followings. In addition, subscribers can choose to receive email notifications when there are new recipes, discussion posts, reviews, and so forth, which can create sizable built-in audiences of non-vegan food fans.

I’m currently adding allrecipes.com and epicurious.com to my current home base of non-vegan food sites.

I still plan to regularly visit smaller food blogs as well, where the conversation with the recipe-maker may be more personal.

Low-Key

My perception so far is that this outreach will be most effective and sustainable – at least for a while – if I limit my views to food, occasional exceptions notwithstanding.

However, opportunities to sneak in some activism do arise. On one site, a regular contributor asked very politely why anyone would eat “imitation” meat if they’re opposed to meat.

She also expressed reservations about soy. This provided an opportunity to talk about the ethical reasons for opposing animal-based meat, and to link, respectively, to sites that explained (and showed) the horrors of animal agriculture and the safety of soy for most people. I was helped significantly by a vegan Facebook friend. Our two voices synergized. The conversation was cordial and productive.

For dishes where I use seitan instead of chicken, where applicable I point out that I don’t have to cook the veganized dish for as long as the original because I don’t have to worry about undercooked meat.

I have a feeling that I’ll be able to judiciously work in references to www.meatvideo.com , the horrid practices of hen hatcheries, and other unsettling but mostly hidden aspects of animal products from time to time. However, my gut tells me that if I overdo it, I’ll lose my audience and/or provoke angry reactions that will impair my gentler food outreach.

Beyond Veganizing Recipes

Many recipe sites have discussion groups. Mixing Bowl has one called “What did you cook today?” What could be easier? Join the group and infuse the conversation with tales of daily, real-life awesome vegan creations – or instant dinners for that matter. These discussions tend to be friendly, and vegan participation may help mainstream the concept to the other members.

I’ve also started to periodically give some love to recipes on these non-vegan sites that appear to be intentionally vegetarian (in which case I veganize it) or vegan, on the theory that non-vegans will be more likely to try a vegan recipe if it has a threshold of good reviews.

Of course, you can submit your own recipes! I don’t have the talent to make recipes from scratch, but I admire and appreciate people who do. I’d love to see vegans’ wonderful creations gracing the non-vegan recipe site landscape, and I look forward to trying those dishes and helping their visibility through rave reviews.

Strength in numbers / Invitation

If one vegan can make a difference in a non-vegan site, then two or ten should be even better. I’d like to see what happens as the frequency and percentage of friendly, informative vegan posts in non-vegan food sites increases.

If you’re interested in this simple – almost relaxing – form of food outreach, feel free to join me – or of course feel free to go at it independently if you prefer. If you want, contact me through email (gary[at]compassion4animails.org) or via Facebook. Optionally let me know the non-vegan food sites at which you’ll be hanging out, and I’ll try to join you there if you want company. If this technique starts to get popular, we could start a Facebook page so we can easily communicate with each other and see what everyone is doing.

***

Gary Loewenthal is the co-founder of Compassion for Animals and founder of the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sake. He and his wife live in Falls Church, Virginia with their cat Mike (who made them go vegetarian in 2002) and bunny Fiona (who made them vegan in 2004).






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(7) Readers Comments

  1. March 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I'm right there with you Gary, this is brilliant, so simple it's easily overlooked. &yes the numbers of us reviewing can grow to the point where near every recipe would have a vegan alternative, even two or three. Please everyone give it a go :)

  2. April 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    BTW, for anyone reading this way after the fact... :) I created a Facebook group for people who want toparticipte in this type of vegan food outreach, let others know where they're veganizing and commenting and submitting, maybe share some veganizing tips: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_120282588052565

  3. Keleigh
    April 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I LOVE this idea! I was vegan several times in my life (the last being a year) & it was amazing. Unfortunately, my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Anorexia & we were in a study at Stanford to help her with the Maudsley approach. Vegan food did not have enough calories to help her out. it was very difficult & grueling, but I did manage to put 20 # back on her. That was 2 years ago & I have had a very difficult time going back to being vegan since I am the only one in our family of 7 interested. It's very difficult to make separate meals for myself. Also we now live in a VERY small town in the armpit of the Central Valley of CA & there is only 1 health food store in town & the charge 7$ for a loaf of bread. So I'm wondering how do you get all the vegan ingredients in my situation, (on top of being a one income family). I grow my own garden, so at least I can make a difference that way.

  4. Gary Loewenthal
    May 4, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Hi Keleigh, Thank you for your efforts! You may be interested in a Facebook group called "Cruelty-Free Transition Support" at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_189772941059517&ap=1 Their charter is to help people who want to be vegan. One thing that comes to mind that I might suggest is focusing on relativelty cheap but filling plant-based foods such as beans, tofu, whole grains, and seasonal produce, not to mention the bounty of your garden. There is also a web site out there - the name escapes me - by a couple who were vegan on food stamp wages for a while. Good luck! Gary

  5. July 31, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I love this campaign of casually bringing in the vegan recipes to the mainstream sites. When I started my website a few years ago, I thought I would just share my ideas on food and natural health in a casual setting and as it has been growing it is being seen by vegan and mainstream people every day. I think it helps to be more casual in our tone and yet consistent by example to make people think about their food choices. I will make an effort to comment on recipes with my spin on the recipe as Gary suggests. This is a long and winding path to stay focused on the mission.

  6. July 31, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks so much, Rhonda! If you end up hanging out at any particular mainstream food sites, feel free to drop me a line ([email protected]), and I'll try to casually give your "spun recipes" some love. :)



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