Over the course of the past four years of my blogging endeavors, my understanding of and relationship to food, veganism, social justice, and, yes, farmers markets has shifted considerably. Indeed, way back in 2011 when I first conceptualized my blog, I held rather naive, perhaps even romantic notions of all of these entities, and hadn’t even begun to realize the coalescing forms of structural subjugation rampant in our society.
Today, after a turbulent four years involving enrollment at a progressive college and eating disorder recovery, I’d like to think of myself as harboring more nuanced views on all of the above (though I certainly don’t purport to understand them in all their complexity). As such, this past summer I penned a new draft of my ever-developing story and blogging “mission statement” of sorts. Though I made this piece of writing available on the “About Me” page of my blog a couple of months ago, in an effort to share more broadly the new meaning behind my blog (and to free up some time in my hectic college-student schedule), I’d like to republish my “blogging autobiography,” if you will, in a separate post today.
Waiting at the bottom of this story is the recipe for an indulgent-tasting amalgamation of richly umami flavors and a satisfying contrast of hearty and crisp textures…with three shots of bacon (vegan, of course!). A bed of bacon-flavored salad greens (who knew that sesame oil, smoked paprika, and garlic powder combined to create an eerily accurate bacony taste?) forms the base of this salad, nearly charred roasted cauliflower and shiitake mushrooms provide bacon’s crispy-chewy juxtaposition, and succulent tempeh bacon tops the dish. To offset the richness of these three salad components, a drizzle of bright and tangy “ranch” dressing finishes everything off. An impressive meal-sized salad, if I ever saw one (and I’ve seen many).
Birth of a Farmers’ Market Foodie
My relationship with food and activism began as early as childhood, when I would perch upon the kitchen stool alongside my mother as she prepared dinner that my family would share each evening. This youthful connection with food grew into a full “foodie” identity by age twelve, when my mother and I ogled at the culinary masterpieces showcased on Iron Chef and Top Chef every week. As a freshman in high school, I began planning, shopping for, and cooking my family’s weekly dinner menus. Having become quite the make-from-scratch-er, I soon began to disdain packaged convenience foods, due to both their low quality and ability to completely separate individuals from developing any sort of meaningful relationship with their food.
Naturally, my interest in high-quality, homemade, unprocessed food as well as its convivial nature led me to my local farmers’ market, where I first inhaled the succulent aroma of fresh heirloom tomatoes and gawked at rainbow-hued carrots while befriending the farmers who produced them. Though I had hardly begun to understand the full extent of the problems surrounding America’s current food system (and beyond), I still sought haven at the farmers’ market from the few predicaments I had already realized. My weekly interactions with devoted purveyors of organic produce, as well as with fellow shoppers who too became a bit verklempt over a particularly aromatic cantaloupe, provided me with a (rather naïve) foodie utopia of sorts.
Come sophomore year of high school, however, my enthusiasm for food had morphed into an unhealthy obsession after an amalgamation of factors—constant judging of young women’s bodies on my gymnastics team, pressure to perform perfectly in academics at my highly competitive high school—led to the development of a fierce eating disorder. With my thoughts constantly fixated on calories—both in terms of eating fewer and burning more—my life suddenly lacked joy and passion. All of my consciousness was focused on waiting for my next meal, as these were the only times when I would allow myself to actually partake in the act that saturated my every thought.
About a year and a half into my eating disorder, a classmate introduced me to veganism, to which I soon clung as a tool of further restriction. Lending less than a second thought to the ethical implications of a vegan lifestyle, I latched onto the diet for an unsuspicious reason to reject calorie-dense foodssuch as traditionally made baked goods, cream sauces, and ice cream (the vegan versions of which I now regularly enjoy). Conscious of this misguided and harmful reason for adopting a vegan diet, I felt uncomfortable every time I called myself a vegan—I knew I was a fraud.
A combination of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Vegetarian Food for Thought podcast and Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet began to pave my path from a depressed, waif-like, phony “vegan” into an inspired, healthy, committed animal rights activist. Introducing me to the intense injustices humans perpetrate against our fellow beings, Colleen and Alicia unflinchingly explained the forced insemination of female cows in the dairy industry, the pulverizing of live male chicks in the egg industry, the role of animal agriculture as one of the most significant contributors to the world’s most serious environmental problems, and a plethora of additional shocking truths.
Previously indifferent to anything unrelated to my obsessive eating habits, I now found a fierce passion ignited inside of me, a drive forceful enough to expel me from my zombie-like state and to shift my mental focus onto something vastly larger than myself – fighting the dominant, violent ideology of carnism.
Suddenly faced with the urgent yet overlooked issue of animal exploitation, I somehow managed to forget about preventing my thighs from meeting in the middle and not consuming more than 25 grams of fat per day. I realized that directing all of my energy toward adhering to arbitrary, self-imposed rules would contribute absolutely nothing to the movement of compassion for all beings. I disposed of my calorie-tracking charts, replacing them with animal advocacy leaflets. I ceased to Google the most effective ab-toning workouts, and instead launched this blog as an educational resource for my classmates who had never before encountered veganism. I even yearned to (and successfully did) gain weight to combat the mainstream notion of vegans as gaunt, frail, and unhealthy. The only unyielding imperative dictating my once laughably self-restricted food choices was now not to consume anything that promotes the needless suffering of sentient beings.
In the midst of this profound (and life-saving) transformation, I continued to patronize the farmers’ market—to this day, I still revel in my Saturday morning jaunts to the market. However, while after adopting a vegan lifestyle I still viewed the farmers’ market as an aspect of a potential reformation of America’s broken food system, I began to view many facets of the farmers’ marketas antithetical to what I perceived as its primary goal of broadening access to good, clean, and fair food. While I certainly couldn’t argue with the qualitative “goodness” of the market’s impeccable produce, I questioned the market’s tenets of “clean” and “fair” in terms of its support of animal agriculture.
Consumers who understandably reject nonindustrial animal agriculture due to the huge threats it poses to the environment often opt for animals raised in small-scale free-range, grass-fed, and cage-free operations. These seemingly more sustainable farming methods, however, still effect the environment quite negatively. For example, pastured organic chickens affect global warming 20 percent more than do caged hens. Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. If each grass-fed cow requires an average of 10 acres for grazing, and if we all 100 million of the cows in the U.S. on grass, then we would have to devote the entire Western half of the country’s land to cattle (this doesn’t even consider the space required of pastured chickens and pigs). As author, journalist, and author James McWilliams reminds us, “It’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all.” A truly “clean” farmers’ market would eschew the sale of animal foods.
To describe the “fair” aspect of its goals, Slow Food nobly affirms that, “we believe that food is a universal right.” I wholeheartedly agree, especially considering the inexcusable food deserts largely concentrated in America’s communities of color, or the 870 million people worldwide who do not have enough to eat. If we agree also, though, that autonomy over one’s own body functions as a universal right, then with animal agriculture we infringe upon this liberty while misguidedly seeking to ensure that advocated by Slow Food (I say “misguidedly” because if all of the crops grown to feed livestock became available for direct human consumption, the available food calories worldwide would increase by up to 70 percent).
Indeed, animal agriculture ensures the exploitation of non-human animals’ bodies while jeopardizing the health of the human animals who consume them, as well as the amount of crops available for direct human consumption. While we may not often hear tales of animal cruelty on small-scale farms, the treatment of animals on such operations often parallels that on factory farms.
The cage-free label, for example, only stipulates that hens live uncaged among up to thousands of other birds in barns or warehouses, generally without access to the outdoors; it also permits forced molting. Additionally, I learned on a trip to the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary during the summer of 2013 that every single one of the sanctuary’s cows—all of whom the sanctuary rescued from cases of intense abuse—came from small-scale, family farms.
Most importantly, however, I truly believe that supporting non-industrial animal agriculture inadvertently supports factory farming, since it does not question the notion of eating animals in general. As long as this carnist concept remains unchallenged, factory farms will always thrive, seeing as demand for meat will not decrease—and let’s face it, factory farms produce meat most efficiently, to the immense detriment of the nearly 10 billion land animals Americans consume each year. A “fair” farmers’ market would include non-human animals in the pool of beings whom they grant universal rights, especially if doing so meant that it would render the universal right of nourishing, plant-based food accessible to many more people.
Growth of an Activist
Coming to terms with the fact that the farmers’ market and the foodie community in general would probably not fulfill my idealistic notion of sparking a large-scale shift in America’s corrupt food system, I looked to strengthen my animal activism, becoming a devoted member of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) immediately upon entering my first year at Vassar College. Little did I know that freshman year (and beyond) would introduce me to a multiplicity of societal oppressions that existed among the speciesism that had kindled my activist flame. Suddenly, I found myself seeking to combat not only the exploitation of non-human animals, but such harmful “isms” as capitalism, colonialism, racism, sexism, ableism, neoliberalism, homophobia, and more.
However, this well-meaning intention first manifested itself in a questionable manner as I began to draw links between these newly encountered social justice issues and the ones I knew well: veganism and animal rights. I found myself thinking: “Women’s reproductive rights are violated…just like female farmed animals are artificially inseminated! Black and brown bodies are systemically exploited…just like the bodies of non-human animals!” Veganism and animal rights provided me a basis for understanding the social justice issues about which I hadn’t read extensively, yet I soon realized the problematic nature of this framing.
During the summer following freshman year, I and my close friend and VARC co-president found ourselves (as Vassar students often do) discussing intersectionality — a social theory suggesting that the various aspects of one’s identity intersect in complex ways, as do the ways one is treated by society because of such aspects. My friend said something hugely profound that day: “It’s not enough to appreciate social justice issues based on how they relate to the one in which we’re most involved. For real change to happen, we must understand the importance of such issues in and of themselves.” That statement has guided my activism ever since.
While I will never forget that veganism and animal rights opened the door to my commitment to advocacy, I’ve since begun learning about and contributing to other social movements — not because they relate to veganism, but because their fights prove necessary in fostering a more just society. I think that all activists must work to recognize the confluence of inequities prevalent in our world, for disparate activism has the potential to create animosity between the feminists over here and the animal rights activists over there. We must realize all of our fights as intimately connected, and commit to individually understanding all of them.
For me, an integral aspect of my intersectional activism involves challenging the problematic aspects of the current vegan movement, including its racism, sexism,ableism, and focus on capitalist, consumer-based strategies. Because these oppressions would exist even if I were not vegan, and my giving up veganism would enforce another very real oppression, challenging such exploitative facets of today’s vegan movement does not involve dismissing veganism altogether.
Instead, I try to engage in a number of actions in the hopes of combating the privileges (access to a bounty of plant-based foods, an income to obtain such foods, and a social circle that won’t disown my non-mainstream lifestyle) that allow me live a sustainable vegan lifestyle. Such actions include supporting admirable organizations like Food Not Bombs and the Food Empowerment Project that work to make nourishing vegan options accessible to marginalized communities; working to free myself of the capitalistic mindset of nonstop accumulation of material goods; working not to reinforce my various privileges in my daily interpersonal relations; and educating myself about the histories and current manifestations of various oppressions by devouring anti-racist, feminist, anarchist, etc. literature and following progressive news sources.
Veganism is only the first way in which I hope to challenge the capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, speciesist, etc. society that makes it super easy to thrive as a white, straight, cis-gender individual with an upper-middle-class background like me.
So…Why “Farmers’ Market Vegan”?
And thus, you have the long, convoluted story of my development as a vegan and an activist. The name of my blog—Farmers’ Market Vegan—serves as a nod to the origins of this story, as well as a reminder to all that combating systemic oppression in all manifestations involves much more than simply buying a bunch of kale at the local farmers’ market.
The (Vegan) Triple Bacon Salad
2-4 oz tempeh, relatively thinly sliced
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp tamari
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/4-1/2 medium-sized head of cauliflower, cut into florets
6 large shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp smoked paprkia
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise (Just Mayo and Vegenaise are my favorites)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 tbsp fresh chives, minced
2-3 big handfuls of mixed salad greens, washed and dried
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, liquid smoke, tamari, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne (in the first grouping of ingredients). Toss the tempeh slices in the marinade and allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the salad components.
Toss the cauliflower florets and sliced shiitake mushrooms with the coconut oil, smoked paprika, and liquid smoke (in the second grouping of ingredients). Spread out in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the veggies are crispy.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the vegan mayo, water, apple cider vinegar, garlic, dill, parsley, and chives (in the third grouping of ingredients). Set aside.
Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Place each slice of marinated tempeh in the skillet and sear until browned, 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat.
While the tempeh cooks, in a large bowl, toss the mixed greens with the sesame oil, smoked paprika, and garlic powder (in the fourth grouping of ingredients).
To assemble, place a bed of half of the dressed salad greens on two large plates. Scatter half of the roasted veggies over each bed of greens. Place half of the tempeh bacon on top of each salad. Drizzle half of the ranch over each plate. Serve.
In solidarity, Ali.