Here at Our Hen House, we love Gena Hamshaw, the force behind Choosing Raw. But you know that already. Gena joined us recently for Episode 182 of our podcast, where she reviewed Kite Hill Cheese (which, duh, is all vegan). And you might recall her recent guest piece here on Our Hen House, “To Eat with Joy: Healing Myself and Finding Compassion” (which also included a delectable recipe for kale salad).
When she’s not writing her wildly popular blog, Gena is busy planning her second career; she just finished her post-bacc degree and is now applying to medical schools (we hens selfishly hope she lands in New York City). Today, Gena is sharing with us how she has been able to influence her peers to embrace veganism more than they ever would have thought possible. While her advocacy was at first accidental, it quickly became very intentional, and now, Gena is on a mission to change the world for animals — by way of a good attitude, and perhaps a side of snacks.
Putting My Best Food Forward: Spreading Veganism through Enthusiasm (BONUS: Vegan Apricot Almond Snack Bars RECIPE)
by Gena Hamshaw
I’ve always listened with some envy to stories of vegans whose family, friends, and loved ones join them in becoming vegan. Don’t misunderstand: my own family and friends have been nothing but supportive of my veganism. They’ve welcomed my dishes to their holiday meals, praised my food at potlucks, and read my blog with enthusiasm. I’ve never had to defend or explain myself, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Even so, when I hear about someone whose parents or best friends have gone vegan with them, I can’t help but think how nice that would be: meals in which everyone relished the same dishes, ne’er an argument over where to dine out, conversations over the dinner table about new vegan eateries or products. In the past, I always resigned myself to experiencing veganism on my own, or turning to the (awesome) vegan community online for a sense of fellowship. But in the last two years, I’ve realized that it’s easier than I once imagined to inspire others to dip their toes into the vegan waters.
Two years ago, at the age of 28, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. Because I had originally majored in English, becoming a doctor meant committing to a second undergraduate career, this time centered around topics like physics, biology, and the dreaded organic chemistry. I entered my program intent on knocking out my prerequisites as quickly as possible; I’d keep my nose to the grindstone, move through my coursework at a breakneck pace, and be on my way to med school in a heartbeat. When people asked me if I thought I’d connect with the people in my program, I just shrugged. “I’m not doing this to make friends,” I said.
Needless to say, my post-bacc was far more difficult and time consuming than I expected. Moreover, the experience showed me once and for all that no man is an island. My post-bacc friends were, at turns, companions, teachers, and role models. They stayed awake into the wee hours to help me with lab reports, gently explained the complex mechanisms of gene recombination to me when I was sure I’d never get it, and let me cry on their shoulders when I felt certain that I’d made a terrible mistake in changing careers.
I’ll never be able to repay the debt I owe these friends, but I did my best throughout the post-bacc experience to show my appreciation in small ways: birthday cards, mix tapes, pre-exam high fives and exclamations of “you got this!” Most of all, I tried to share the gift I like best to give: food. As long as I was busy creating recipes for my blog, I figured, I might as well share with those close to me. I was often known to bring a bag of kale chips, a batch of vegan cookies, or a tub of homemade hummus to class or to group study sessions. I even bottled up green juice in individual mason jars and brought them to the library – some for me, some for my post-bacc companions.
My post-bacc friends all know I’m vegan. It’s usually one of the first things I mention about myself, and of course there’s my blog, Choosing Raw, which is devoted to vegan recipes. When asked “what made you go vegan?” I usually say something like this: “I went vegan because I was struggling with digestive illness, but at this point I’m also motivated by ethical and environmental reasons.” Sometimes more curious questions follow, sometimes they don’t, but no matter what, I always exclaim (because it’s true) “and I love the food so, so much.” When I talk about being vegan, I beam; becoming vegan is the best decision I’ve ever made, and that shines across when I lovingly describe how veganism infuses my life with happiness.
My enthusiasm must be infectious, because over the course of my two-year post-bacc run at Georgetown, a number of my friends have started to explore plant-based recipes on their own. One good friend has played around with meatless Mondays (it’s Meatless Tuesdays for him). Another is practically vegan now; she says that exploring a vegan diet has inspired her to revisit some of the many Japanese dishes she grew up with. Another has taken to making green smoothies and kale salad at home, and still another friend – who, like me, comes from a history of GI illness – is now vegan, except when she eats out.
These are enormous, incredible changes. And while I can’t take responsibility for them, I do think that the obvious delight I take in being vegan has helped plant a seed of curiosity. Many folks read about veganism in the newspaper, or see a documentary, and think “I should really eat more vegetarian meals,” but they lack real-life guidance or inspiration. At the same time, there’s so much anti-vegan misinformation out there – from personal trainers declaring that no one can build muscle as a vegan, to health personalities insisting that Paleo diets are better – that even people who are curious about veganism may be easily deterred. That’s when personal example can be so powerful.
Like many passionate vegans, I spend a lot of time wondering how best to share veganism with others. Do I emphasize the possible health benefits? The environmental significance of not supporting animal agriculture? Do I appeal to compassion for animals? Depending on the situation, any one of these talking points can be a useful avenue for activism. But in the end, the activist approach that has always worked best for me is to simply share delicious food. Though veganism has transformed my life in every possible way – mind, body, and spirit – I’d never have been able to make the shift had I not learned to cook food that delighted my senses. And it’s this same food that helps me show my friends that veganism isn’t about deprivation, dieting, or barren plates of sprouts. It’s about abundance, variety, and joy.
Sometimes, a simple kale chip or cookie goes a lot further than even the most carefully crafted of talking points. And sometimes, when you least expect it, you find that veganism isn’t so solitary a journey as you thought it would be.
The following bars are one of my go-to student snacks. They’re rich in healthy fats, simple sugars for energy, and traces of iron from almonds and apricot. If you’d like, add a little bit of hemp protein powder for an extra boost. In an airtight container, refrigerated, these bars will keep for up to 10 days.
[print_this] Homemade Apricot Almond Snack Bars (raw, vegan)
by Gena Hamshaw
Makes 12 to 14 Snack Bars
2 cups raw almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 generous pinch sea salt
1 cup unsulfured apricots
3/4 cup medjool dates, tightly packed
- Add the almonds, cinnamon, and sea salt to a food processor fitted with the S blade. Pulse a few times to combine and break the almonds down.
- Add the dates and apricots and let the motor of the processor run until you have a somewhat sticky, uniform mixture with only tiny pieces of almond throughout. When you clench a small fistful, it should stick together completely.
- Line a 9-inch square baking pan with plastic wrap. Press the snack bar mixture into the pan. Make sure it’s uniformly distributed throughout. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes or more.
- Cut the snack bar mixture into 12 to 14 pieces. Wrap individually to prevent sticking. Keep them in the fridge until ready to eat, and enjoy! [/print_this]
Gena Hamshaw is a certified clinical nutritionist and the author of Choosing Raw, a blog devoted to vegan and raw recipes, animal rights, the promotion of positive body image, and a mindful approach to health. Her work has been published in O Magazine, VegNews Magazine, Food52, and Whole Living Daily. In her old life, Gena was a book editor. In her present life, she just completed a premedical post-baccalaureate degree and is currently applying to medical schools. Having spent many years of her life battling an eating disorder and a host of digestive problems, Gena is particularly interested in the mind/body connection and its role in the healing process. She hopes to bring a compassionate and intuitive, yet evidence-based approach to a career in healthcare.