Five Things NEVER to Buy at the Grocery Store Again

These days it’s easy to get caught up in all the flashy products available at the supermarket. Everything has a fancy, complicated version of itself. Pick up a bottle of tomato sauce at a grocery store and count the ingredient. Now grab the tortillas and see if you can pronounce all the chemicals. Finally, look at the fancy $10 organic peanut butter, and you’ll see the point I’m trying to get to: salt and peanuts. That’s it…

These days it’s easy to get caught up in all the flashy products available at the supermarket. Everything has a fancy, complicated version of itself. Pick up a bottle of tomato sauce at a grocery store and count the ingredients. Now grab the tortillas and see if you can pronounce all the chemicals. Finally, look at the fancy $10 organic peanut butter, and you’ll see the point I’m trying to get to: salt and peanuts. That’s it.

The peanut butter example is to show that there’s no reason to buy something like this in the store when it’s so simple. The other examples illustrate all of the useless and complicated things that are in basic products. I’m here to tell you about 5 things that are ridiculously easy to make in your own kitchen. There’s no need to EVER buy any of them in the store. You’ll save money, get creative, be healthier, waste fewer containers, and most importantly be able to show off to your friends.

#1 – Peanut butter

Why God, why? WHY do we insist on buying this crap when it literally has two ingredients! You have been LIED to your whole life that peanut butter is something to buy at the store! Not only is it always sold in wasteful plastic, it’s usually loaded with extra salt, sometimes sugar, and all sorts of other chemicals. “Oh, but I buy the fancy organic peanut butter” I hear you say. Again, WHY? This can be made at home in ten minutes, for a fifth of the price. Here’s how.

1. Put peanuts in the oven for 10 minutes at 190 degrees C.
2. Put peanuts in a food processor and pulse. Scrape down the sides. Pulse.
3. Repeat until it’s peanut butter.

That’s it. Never again will you pay $10 for a jar of peanut butter containing $2 worth of peanuts.

#2 – Milk

Okay, yes, I’m vegan, but that isn’t my point here. Obviously, most of us don’t have a cow out back that we can milk for cow’s milk. I’m referring to the alternatives, like rice milk, cashew milk, almond milk, etc. This is also something that’s insanely easy to make at home. Most alternatives to cow’s milk are healthier too! You don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate the smooth taste of freshly made almond milk. Instead of buying a $5 carton of milk every week, try this:

1. Fill a large mason jar 1/3 of the way up with almonds. Fill the jar with water.
2. Wait a few hours, or overnight.
3. Drain the almonds, fill the water up again (drinkable water this time).
4. Dump water and almonds into a blender.
5. Blend.
6. Strain out the almonds with a fine strainer or nut bag, back into the mason jar.

That’s it. You can do the exact same thing with rice, any nut, oats, chia seeds, pretty much any grain. No more wasting cartons, wasting money, or torturing cows for no reason.

#3 – Tortillas

Again, two ingredients, maybe three if you’re feeling frisky. Ignore the novel on the back of your overpriced tortillas and grab some flour. You can make literally hundreds of tortillas for the price of that package, and your gut will thank you for it. Here’s how:

1. Dump a bunch of flour into a bowl. I don’t know, let’s say 300 grams.
2. Add a cup of water and stir until it’s doughy. Not too sticky. Imagine pizza dough.
3. Sprinkle some dough onto your (clean) counter.
4. Grad a golf ball-sized wad of dough and flatten it over the flour. Use a rolling pin or your hands. You’ll get better with practice. Flip it occasionally.
5. Add a LITTLE oil to a pan and get it SUPER hot.
6. Cook the tortilla on that pan for 30-60 seconds on either side.

That’s it. If you like it salty, add some salt to the dough. Or anything. Cinnamon, garlic, any seeds or grains, all can be additions. Play with it however you want. Keep the packaging of your old tortillas in the bathroom for some light reading on those especially long visits.

#4 – Oatmeal

This stuff can be SUPER expensive when you buy the fancy kind. But let’s not do that. Let’s see what’s lying around your house and make it into something you can have for breakfast for a week or more. Grab any nuts you have (peanuts, cashews, almonds), some cinnamon, rolled oats, and some honey or agave.

1. Put all the things listed above into a bowl.
2. Mix them around a bunch with your (clean) hands.
3. Spread it all out onto a baking pan and bake at 200 C for 20-25 min.
4. Lick your fingers.

That’s it. Once it cools, put it in a big container and it’ll store for weeks. Use some of that milk you made earlier for an incredibly healthy and delicious breakfast.

#5 – Guacamole

Ah yes, the caviar of the hipster. People will shell out 10 bucks for a jar of this (welcome to China). You can make it at home for $3. Go and get three avocados, half an onion, as much garlic as you can stand, a lemon and a tomato from your kitchen.

1. Chop up the ingredients above and throw them into a food processor (obviously, squeeze the lemon; don’t chop it…).
2. Press the “On” button.
3. Wait one minute.

That’s… Yeah. That’s it. You just made some delicious guac to serve with the two-ingredient tortillas you made earlier. Make both these things for less than $5 at your next potluck and you’ll be famous. Take THAT, Cindy and Martin from down the street.

So yeah. You can make all this at home, mostly with stuff you have lying around anyway. Hopefully, you found at least one of these things useful, and even more importantly, I hope that next time you’re at the supermarket and pick up a product, you’ll think twice and maybe do a quick Google search of “How to make ______ at home.” You’ll be surprised what you can do yourself!

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Dragon Burn: Shanghai’s Burning Man

Last month Isaac and I visited our first Burn! It was the Dragon Burn – Shanghai’s regional of the Burning Man. It was bigger than ever, with almost 700 attendees and there were plenty of workshops (planned as well as guerrilla) and lots of fascinating art pieces! As members of the Vegan Camp, The Cucumburners, we made a lot of delicious food to share with the camp as well as any hungry passersby.

Last month Isaac and I visited our first Burn! It was the Dragon Burn – Shanghai‘s regional of the Burning Man. It was bigger than ever, with almost 700 attendees and there were plenty of workshops (planned as well as guerrilla) and lots of fascinating art pieces! As members of the Vegan Camp, The Cucumburners, we made a lot of delicious food to share with the camp as well as any hungry passersby.

Check out the highlights of our camp and the effigy burning finale below:

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Ubud, Bali: A Vegan Food Paradise

When I talked to my Indonesian friends about finding vegan food in Bali and they were skeptical. They told me that Indonesians are obsessed with their meat and all traditional dishes are loaded with animal products. I’ve always been able to find plenty of vegan options despite meat eaters claiming that I’ll starve to death in their country… so I wasn’t too worried but I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to feast on delicious unhealthy vegan comport food. #firstworldveganproblems

I was super excited when I first arrived in Ubud and saw a vegan buffet restaurant. I jumped up and down saying “we have to go-” but another all-you-can-eat buffet interrupted me. During the 10 minute drive we saw at least five places boasting vegan food and we looked at each other excitedly, hello more vegan food than we could possible ever eat. Yes, there’s dessert too!

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My Beauty Farm: Natural Cosmetics in Shanghai

“Ooh, this skin cream looks great,” I have thought on many occasions while strolling through the malls of Shanghai. I lift the product off the shelf and glance at the label out of habit even though I don’t understand a word. More times than I care to admit, I actually took it home and put it on my skin. Big mistake.

Common ingredients in Chinese products include toxic skin whitening chemicals (sometimes even found in deodorant), lead and even arsenic. It doesn’t help if you’re shopping for a brand you already know – sometimes the product is fake. Unfortunately, China isn’t the only country that puts dangerous, unnecessary and often unethical ingredients in their beauty products – this happens all over the world.

Do you want products made with natural ingredients that will make you look, smell and feel beautiful? Back away from that Sephora basket, walk towards the nearest exit and come meet Severine Clement, owner of My Beauty Farm.

Severine was born in France and moved to Shanghai ten years ago where she now lives with her husband and two children. After just one year in this cosmopolitan city of 24 million people, she began making her own cosmetics because she was frustrated with the products she was buying.

“The range of choices was so wide that I never knew if the product I was buying was the best suited for my skin,” Severine explained. “In addition to this, I was not comfortable not knowing what I was applying to my skin.”

She had always been interested in simple cosmetics and was willing to take the time to learn how to make customized cosmetics from natural, pure (and mostly organic) ingredients. Severine had to learn all this by herself because there weren’t any classes that taught how to make DIY natural cosmetics.

At first she would strictly follow recipes that she found online while researching the properties, benefits and uses of various natural ingredients. Later she began adjusting the recipes to suit her own skin and preferences which led to her creating totally new recipes!

“I like selecting the ingredients, creating my own personalized products and adjusting the recipes according to my skin’s needs. I always feel good after hand-crafting my own products. And I like knowing that I’m treating my skin with the best quality ingredients.”

My Beauty Farm is unique because Severine regularly changes her recipes and the products she sells because she adapts them to each customer. She is happy to cater to vegan clients and in general, most of her clients are eco-conscious. In addition to selling quality natural products, she also hosts the very DIY workshops that she wishes she could have attended nine years ago!

“My mission is to empower women to take control of their beauty by sharing my expertise, knowledge and recipes,” Severine says. So far, she has hosted over 60 workshops that have welcomed more than 300 visitors. Although her clients are all based in Shanghai, they come from all over the world.

She organizes workshops two or three times a month and thoroughly enjoys the contact with people as well as teaching something she is passionate about. Now that her kids are getting older, she is slowly introducing them to her hobby by helping them make their own cosmetics. She even organizes DIY workshops for children!

“I believe that everyone’s skin is unique, so I provide one-on-one advice to my customers,” Severine says. Some of her favorite ingredients include rosehip carrier oil, geranium, essential oil, cacao butter and rose floral water.

I myself discovered Severine when I was in search of vegan essential oils. I had purchased several essential oils on Taobao but wasn’t quite satisfied. The peppermint oil that I got from her is light and fragrant; I’ve worn it every day as perfume and I’m looking forward to discovering its many health benefits.

Find out more about My Beauty Farm and Severine’s DIY workshops on her Facebook page or add her on WeChat (ID = SeverineClement).

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How I Became a Beveage (Vegan…ish)

‘Vegan’ is a word I never thought I’d use in reference to myself. Until three months ago, I never even said ‘vegan’ without grimacing unless I was being sarcastic. I loved meat, cheese and eggs, pitied vegetarians and looked down on vegans. Why did I single vegans out so much? One or two may have been mean to me once upon a time… I know I’m the only (ex)carnivore who wanted to eat bacon cheeseburgers every time a vegan was mean to me. It’s too bad that asshole meat eaters don’t have the same effect on people, because no one would ever eat meat again.

So how did I go from eating tatarak (a Czech delicacy where several hundred grams of raw ground beef are mixed with a raw egg) to being a beveage (I’ll get to that soon) in the snap of a finger? I didn’t. It took five snaps to be exact, starting with Esther.

1. Esther the Wonderpig

For those of you who don’t know her, Esther is a pig. She is adorable, witty and if she hadn’t been rescued, hundreds of people would have eaten parts of her for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It took me several weeks of following her Facebook page while seeing trucks full of pigs going to slaughter pass me on the street before I made the connection.

          You do know that every piece of ground meat contains hundreds of different animals,            right? Sorry, not going trying to preach here, just FYI…

I decided I’d stop eating pork because pigs were cute. “But what about cows, you don’t think they are cute?” my husband asked over a chicken dinner. Needless to say, although we started eating less pork, we still ate all other animals and even the occasional Esther too. It was just too hard to make sure our dumplings didn’t contain pork. Right?

2. Fried dog paws in Vietnam 🙁

Fast-forward several months to the most amazing three week trip to Vietnam. One day, my husband and I were joking about not being sure what meat was in our noodles with a flexitarian. Two days later we saw a pile of fried dog paws in the market and suddenly we weren’t laughing anymore. I almost broke down, picturing all the dogs I had met on the trip being cut into pieces.

Why did dog meat bother me so much when I was so desensitized to seeing other dead animals? A visit to the market in China is filled with frozen pig hooves, cut open chickens with half-formed eggs inside them and bull testicles casually draped above the vendors’ heads. We ate our first vegetarian pho that evening and I vowed to stop eating meat.

3. Vegans of Shanghai

Just two weeks later we were in our new home in Shanghai looking for something to do. Meetups.com showed only one event that day, a vegan movie screening. This was the first time I didn’t scoff at the word vegan, but I was still skeptical.

“We can’t go to a vegan event… I’ve been vegetarian for a day and you ate beef for breakfast,” I scolded my husband while eating some fried cheese. “We can’t just show up and pretend to be vegan! Could you ask if non-vegans are welcome without being awkward?”

Conversation on WeChat:

*Other people chatting in group*
Isaac: Hello vegans, can my wife and I join tonight even though we are not                           vegan?
Organizer: Beveages are welcome.

“What’s a beveage?” my husband asks me. I search the term in Google but get nothing. “It must be a term for non-vegans or people in transition…”

Organizer: Beverages*
Organizer: Yes, of course you’re welcome @Isaac!

“Oh… wow, we’re dumb,” I laugh.

So that’s how we met our first vegan friends who were all nice, chill and didn’t judge us for not being vegan. We did that ourselves… after watching Okja. Which is an amazing Korean movie that’s not in your face vegan and even makes fun of extremists while making an important point about modern day meat production.

That night, one vegetarian and meat eater walked into a room full of vegans and two vegetarians walked out. We felt so good about our decision while agreeing that being vegan was absolutely crazy and we would never do it. Two weeks later, we read Neal Barnard’s The Cheese Trap.

4. Reading The Cheese Trap

Only two chapters in, I removed the $70 2.5 kilo piece of mozzarella from my fridge and gave it to a friend. I thought I was only getting rid of cheese, but suddenly my mysterious hip pain, daily phlegm issues, dandruff and acne were gone too!

I still have trouble believing that it was all caused by dairy until I talk to other vegans who experienced the same exact thing. I had only been expecting the vegan glow and super fast growing healthy hair… *blinding hair flip*

We stopped eating eggs too by the way, but there’s no backstory to that. We just don’t like tortured hormone-filled chicken or mass grinding of baby male chicks (only illegal in Germany by the way). Plus chickens are cute too.

Honestly, it wasn’t hard at all. We had been so bored with food and now we had millions of new recipes to try. We discovered the wonders nooch (nutritional yeast), aquafaba and the dozen different ways to make delicious cruelty-free bacon (rice paper is the best). But we still ate fish and showed that off proudly to avoid being called the still feared ‘v’ word.

5. Realizing I’m a fish-loving but sushi-eating hypocrite

On October, Friday the 13th I stopped eating fish too. I knew I would eventually stop eating fish but I didn’t realize that I was eating my last payday salmon sushi. The last snap was more of a slap.

The kindergarten that I work at did what any school does: they bought some fish as pets for the class. Whoever bought the fish didn’t know much about them and most Chinese fish stores only care about making money. So we ended up with eight goldfish in two tiny round bowls with about three cm of water in each bowl.

“They will be dead in three days,” I said angrily, “they need a filter, more water and a proper square aquarium!”

“I know,” said my supervisor sadly, “but nothing can be done about that now.”

For two days, I watched the (cute) fish slowing down and starting to look sickly. On the third day, they were finally presented to the kids and everyone got to throw food at them.

“Why aren’t they eating?” the teacher asked me.

“Because they are dying,” I replied.

Friday morning I was sitting at my desk with one of the bowls on my table, discarded by the class because the fish were constantly ‘sleeping’. The other four had already died and one of the fish was swimming sideways, following in their footsteps.

I was close to tears with sadness and anger. Anger at myself for feeling this way about a few (cute) small goldfish when I ate several hundred grams of salmon at payday sushi on Tuesday. I felt guilty and realized two things: I would save the remaining goldfish no matter what and I would never eat fish again.

The remaining three fish are swimming happily along with four new friends as I write this. For the first time in my life, I want to call myself vegan. Now that I finally want the title, I know that I will never be able to use it. I will never eat meat, fish, dairy or fish again but I do believe in eating insects.

Are proper vegans super frustrated with me? Probably. Sorry about that!

Summary:

I am no longer a pescatarian, and although I now buy environmentally-friendly cruelty-free cleaning products, makeup, crafting supplies and I don’t consume any non-insect animal products, I still can’t call myself a vegan! Nor can I get frustrated about that, because I still eat things that live, breathe and (yuck) poop <– see? Still a hypocrite!

Since “90% plant-based” is too difficult to explain, I guess I’ll just keep calling myself a beveage. Will I ever be 100% vegan? Who knows… I was eating cheese-fried bacon several months ago and now look at me! And apparently it’s not just me since Ben and Jerry’s, Bailey’s, Dominoes Pizza, TGI Friday’s and even McDonald’s are now offering vegan options…

If you’re reading this while considering veganism but you’re panicking because you don’t know what you’ll eat, let me tell you these reassuring words: Oreos are vegan. There is also plenty of rape-free chocolate, plant-based cheeses, nut milks and imitation meats to curb your cravings.  Speaking of which, once you stop/limit eating processed foods, you’ll mostly just be craving veggies and fruits just like you’re supposed to!

The most important thing that I realized through this transformation is that it doesn’t matter what other people think. As long as you feel good about your choices, don’t listen to meat-eaters, vegans or even beveages. But seriously, go eat some Oreos. Except sh**, they’re cute too! *starves*

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Real Vegans Eat Insects: True or False?

The growing trend of edible insects has started many debates among foodies. It’s gaining popularity because It’s a great alternative source of protein because farming insects requires fewer resources and it can be done in ways that don’t harm the environment.

Some Google definitions:

  • Vegetarian: a person who does not eat meat or fish, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.
  • Vegan: a person who does not eat or use any animal products.

Antoine Doré, who created the image above, captures how most vegetarians see eating insects.

By definition neither vegetarians nor vegans should even consider eating insects because they are animals. Whether or not they are sentient is another question that is currently being researched.

However research does show that insects don’t have nociceptors which inhibit them from feeling the same type of pain that humans feel. This does not mean they can’t feel pain though, you can read more about this here.

How are insects prepared for eating?

Since over 2 billion people in the world eat insects as part of their daily diet, even this question has many answers. But the most humane way to prepare insects, for example mealworms, is to place them in the fridge which makes them hibernate. Once they are hibernating they are thrown into boiling water so they die immediately. This is believed to be painless although, as previously mentioned, there is no data yet to back this up.

Mealworm example and comparison to cattle:

Mealworms live an average of 3 months and if they are hibernating in the fridge, they can live up to 5 months. When people eat mealworms, they eat the insect at the larva stage (where it looks like a worm instead of a black beetle). An adult beetle lays up to 500 eggs in their lifetime. These eggs hatch in 1 – 4 weeks and they become pupas (cocoons) in 7 – 10 weeks. You can see a video of their life cycle here.

The quick maturity rate of mealworms (and other insects) is another benefit of eating insects. It takes very few resources for them to become mature and it takes little time to repopulate them. With cattle, for example, it takes 2 years for a cow to reach maturity and be able to breed.

Here is an infographic from Six Foods showing the comparison of resources needed for cow and crickets. Did you know that only 40% of a cow is actually edible as opposed to 80% of a cricket?

cowcricket (4)

Why SHOULDN’T vegetarians and vegans eat insects?

Disclaimer: Just because they don’t want to eat insects is a perfectly reasonable answer! No one has a right to force others to do something just because they believe it is right. But for the sake of answering the question…

The vegetarian and vegan belief is that animals should not be harmed for the survival of humans. Insects are animals too so they should not be eaten. Research does show that there are sufficient amounts of alternative protein sources for humans to survive without eating meat.

Recently there was a great answer on Quora explaining what would happen if everyone in the world stopped eating meat. Although human beings are born omnivores, there has been plenty of evidence to suggest that we can be healthy without eating meat.

Can humans really get all necessary nutrition without meat-based protein?

Again debatable, but research shows that the biggest problem with veganism and vegetarianism is the possibility of developing iron deficiencies, not lack of protein. This is because plant-based iron doesn’t absorb as easily into the human body.

Insects can play an important role here for those who are willing to eat them. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): “… many edible insects provide satisfactory amounts of energy and protein, meet amino acid requirements for humans, are high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are rich in micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc, as well as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and, in some cases, folic acid.”

There is also evidence of certain enzymes that could play a role in curing Alzheimer’s disease – although this, like everything insect related, still needs a lot of research.

Why SHOULD vegetarians and vegans eat insects?

Disclaimer: Again, no one is trying to force anyone to do anything! But here’s a few reasons why eating insects is something to consider!

There have been various articles about how eating insects will cause animals less harm. Some go as far as saying that replacing plants with insects can help the environment. Here’s one that the Huffington Post did a while back.

There are many reasons to become vegetarian and many do it to harm fewer animals. There are also vegetarians who choose to make exceptions and not follow all the strict rules: like many ideologies in life, it’s not always possible to follow 100%. (Is it even possible to live in a house, shop in a supermarket, use chemical beauty products and wear factory-produced clothing without harming animals? Don’t forget that most medicines are tested on animals.)

What is the purpose of veganism (and vegetarianism)?

If the ultimate goal is to help animals and there is proof that eating insects helps them, wouldn’t it make sense to give it a try? Imagine saving an intelligent animal that could live up to 15 years (a cow) by eating an insect that has a lifespan that’s measured in weeks and can be farmed without feeling the stress or pain that a mammal would. Wouldn’t that be worth it?

Since my opinion is clearly biased, I decided to ask about this on Quora to see what other people thought. Most of the responses were clear: vegans don’t eat insects because they don’t eat any animals. This is totally understandable and a fair answer, however my favorite response was from ex-vegetarian Pavel Georgiev:

“Veganism is both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.

Not all animals are equal in their ability to experience pain and desires. Ending the life of an insect is not equivalent to ending the life of a human in many respects.

Some vegans may argue that oysters can be eaten, despite their status as an animal, because they lack the biological systems that give rise to the sensation of pain and desire. Some people stick to a strict definition and don’t consider those “self-appointed vegans” to be vegans.

“Insects” include many different animals. Some people that call themselves vegans might find it okay to eat certain insects despite their ability to experience pain or desire because it may be a very limited ability.

Eating insects instead of plants could reduce the net suffering of animals since it is possible for many animals to suffer (that have a greater ability to suffer) from agricultural processes. The definition of veganism can be limiting for some because “animal” is a broad term and it ignores more complex ethical issues.”

Would you eat an insect if it could save a cow?

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