From the Residency: (Mostly) Raw Kale Salad

As Mark mentioned I am currently at a residency at the Philadelphia Art Hotel, run by two amazing people, artists Krista Peel and Zak Starer. I am all set up in a the top floor of a row-house in the East Kensington neighborhood in a studio room adjacent to a kitchenette where, thankfully, I can once again prepare all of my own food. My fellow resident, Danielle Rante, and I are becoming fast friends, along with our other roomie, her dog Kanga.

Lo and behold, Danielle is vegan and Zak and Krista are vegetarian, so it was easy for us all to agree on a local eatery the other evening–the Memphis Taproom–which is in our neighborhood. They serve local beers on tap and have a great selection of vegan food on the menu, as the lady half of their operation is vegan. Danielle and I each got the yummy Smoked (Tofu) Coconut Club with fries.

As great as that meal was, it’s not really representative of how I’m eating here. I love getting to see how other (foodie) vegans prepare food for themselves, and Danielle is teaching me a lot in the health realm. At our house, we tend to eat a lot of starches- regular noodles and breads and decent quantities of them. I think of starch as one of my small indulgences. However, since Danielle and I have prepared some simple meals together–of mostly fresh produce and whole wheat pasta, for example–I realized how great (and how much better for me) whole wheat pasta, or sprouted grain bread can be.  One of my favorite new snacks I’ve learned from her is simply lightly toasted sprouted grain bread with part of an avocado smooshed on top, drizzled with some honey (we’re honey eaters) with a sprinkle of salt.

The (Mostly) Raw Kale Salad above was my lunch today.  I learned from Danielle to rub the kale with a bit of olive oil and salt and let it sit to soften it a bit while preparing the other veggies. This makes it easier to eat. This salad also has an herbed salad mix stirred in with the kale, chickpeas (the not-raw part), diced green onions, blueberries, shredded purple cabbage, half an avocado- chopped, carrots and some hummus on the side. In addition to the oil and salt, it has a dash of balsamic vinegar and some cranks from a pepper mill. It was perfect!


#1 Stacy on 08.08.10 at 9:41 am

THis looks beautiful. I always think I would cook more like this if I were better at it. Wish I could spend some time with someone who was really adept at making raw-type foods so I could learn.

#2 The Old Punk on 08.14.10 at 1:29 am

Hi there

I really like your blog but I’ve got to say this – honey is about as vegan as cow’s milk:

Agave is better, especially for the bees 😉

#3 Amy on 08.14.10 at 10:27 am

Thanks for your thoughts old punk. Being vegans, we clearly think about our dietary choices VERY thoroughly, not without recognizing the fact that almost everything we own or buy impacts the world around us for the better or worse. We also recognize that all diets are a spectrum and people draw lines differently based upon their own moral compasses.

Some of our honey logic:
1) Buying local: It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to eschew local Michigan honey for agave when the truck that drives the agave from New Mexico (or wherever it’s harvested) impacts the environment (and countless insects along the way) adversely. If you live in New Mexico, great!–eat agave, but if you don’t then the logic doesn’t hold in my opinion. We happen to purchase both items and use them for different purposes. But we don’t champion one over the other since we weigh the impact that purchasing both items carries. You’ll notice that we also purchase avocados, which are hardly local. While we try to do A LOT to support our local farmer (farmers markets, growing a garden ourselves, etc.) as well as keeping rain barrels, etc. we’re not perfect and make some of our choices for health or indulgent reasons. I assure you that we’re always doing more to try to become better citizens on the planet (such as Mark’s recent foray into making all of our own soymilk so as to reduce the number of containers we consume).

2) Health benefits: local honey has many, including preventing allergies by containing local pollens as well as being naturally antibacterial.

3) The honey bee die-off:
we like to do what we can to support as many local beekeepers as possible. The more of a demand for local honey there is, harvested in a careful and thoughtful manner, the better it is for the world around us.

Thanks for calling my attention to an issue that needs to be addressed on this blog that could have passed unnoticed. I am curious how many honey-eating and honey avoiding vegans we have reading the blog. Among our vegan friends, most happen to eat honey- not that that makes it necessarily right or wrong.
Cheers for following your beliefs consistently; keep raising flags wherever you see inconsistency.

All the best,

#4 The Old Punk on 08.15.10 at 11:26 am

Hi Amy

Thanks for the thought-out reply. I hope you don’t mind me responding.

1. The ‘buy local’ logic is a bit of a red herring. Like meat, milk and eggs, honey isn’t an essential food so there’s really no need to buy it at all. If you need a liquid sweetener, I’m pretty certain you can find another locally-sourced alternative. Also, I don’t really have a problem with using both local and non-local products (trade between humans for things they can’t produce locally is a pretty ancient tradition). It’s the methods of transportation, as well as the transportation of unnecessary products, that are the real problem IMHO.

2. The ‘health’ benefits of honey generally seem to be promoted by those with a vested interest in the honey industry. It’s not too dissimilar to the dairy industry promoting the ‘health’ benefits of milk. Bottom line is, honey is a sugar and is not that different to any other sugar (in fact, it’s quite unhealthy if you look at the simple sugars that compose the bulk of honey). The evidence for local pollen helping allergy sufferers is generally anecdotal. At best, research has shown that some people may gain a small benefit from eating local honey (and the amounts needed to be eaten may even have an overall negative effect – I have no idea how much you would need to eat to be an effective anti-allergen). That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of honey’s supposed healthiness. And there are vegan alternatives to honey, such as quercetin and bromelain combinations that have been shown through clinical trials to inhibit histamines, reduce incidences and severity of asthma etc (although there is still much to learn). There are many foods rich in quercetin and vegan tablets are also available.

With all of the vegan alternatives for healthy living, honey is not needed.

3. While I agree that bees are such a crucial part of the natural cycle and food production (I’m a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust), the widescale farming of honeybees may actually be having a detrimental affect on feral honeybees, bumblebees and other pollincating insects, as they compete for food sources, introduce viruses and other diseases to native populations when they are moved around and so on. The honeybee only pollinates about 20% of wild plants that need pollinating. Large populations of farmed honeybees and the impact on feral species could actually cause us some pretty big headaches in the future.

And there’s nothing to stop us, as responsible vegans, creating habitats and homes for all sorts of bees (and other insects) that aid pollination without resorting to their exploitation. It could be argued that some animal farming helps create and maintain essential natural habitats (e.g. grazing on grassland). That doesn’t mean to say it’s OK to do it.

By far the best article I have read explaining the vegan position on honey is this one:

By definition (Vegan Society UK, the world’s first vegan organisation and responsible for introduing the word and the ideology), a vegan does not eat honey. It is not a point to be debated, it is an essential part of veganism. To claim you are a vegan while advocating the use of the product of animal exploitation simply creates confusion and inconsistency:

Buying honey endorses the beekeeping mindset–that animals are here for human use, that “it’s OK to take things from the bees since I’ve put a lot of time and money into keeping them alive,” and that encouraging excess production is desirable–precisely the values that are currently causing so much environmental damage (from the Vegetus site)

I hope I don’t come across as dogmatic, I sometimes find it hard to express things like this without sounding quite ‘cold’. I’m quite a nice bloke really! But, as a vegan of nearly 30 years, it’s important for me to help maintain the ideological clarity that underpins the vegan philosophy. And that includes challenging, in my own clumsy but well-intentioned way, the belief held by some people that honey is vegan.

And I do really like and appreciate what you do here, creative cooking like this is one of the best endorsements our movement can have 🙂

#5 mark on 08.15.10 at 1:16 pm

Old Punk, first, thanks for taking the time to push the issue–I think this type of discussion is really important and it’s easy to just let things slide. I also think this is how change comes about.

I think one really important thing to keep in mind about the honey issue is that it’s complicated. In some sense, I _like_ that it’s complicated, that we don’t merely adopt the dictates inherent to Watson’s definition, that we struggle constantly to improve ourselves morally.

We’ve definitely thought a lot about this issue, and debated a lot about, actually. Until recently, I was strictly anti-honey. What (I may grant incorrectly) changed my position were the alternatives (well, the major ones):

* Agave nectar: Almost all commercial agave nectar comes from Mexico. It also comes almost exclusively in plastic containers. I think it’s legitimate to argue that the number of insects killed in the transport of the agave, along with environmental harms associated with both the transport and packaging, make it at least as harmful to insects as honey production. So, in a way, I think the “argument from death” fails here. While I don’t think this justifies eating honey, it does raise concerns about agave (the same concerns we have about anything that isn’t local and can’t be had in bulk, sans packaging).

* Vegan sugar: This raises the same transportation issues for most of us. Unlike “regular” sugar, vegan sugar typically can’t be had in bulk either. It’s packaging is less problematic than the agave’s, however. The bigger problem with vegan sugar is that it fosters carelessness. You come to think that sugar is vegan, period. So that pasta sauce you like? Probably not vegan. Even a simple loaf of bread? The yeast were probably eating non-vegan sugar. So, if a honey eater can’t self-apply the term vegan, neither should someone who eats anything made with unspecified sugar. Of course–and this is the big kicker, and has probably convinced me–if you’re eating honey, you’re also eating the same non-vegan sugar, since that’s what bees are typically fed (that or corn syrup, which is problematic in a different way).

* Maple syrup: Okay. I give up. This is probably the morally superior sweetener (especially if you live in Michigan). We can get this from small, local farms. It doesn’t involve crazy transport or subjugating nature in any way. We don’t really have a bulk source for this, and most places use plastic containers, but you can generally at least return containers to the farmers for reuse. It’s hard to think that I’d want this in my tea, but I guess you can adjust to anything, given time.

I think the more general point here is that the honey question falls into the “how vegan is vegan” category. Falling back on Watson’s definition create a moral scope problem (a lot like organized religion often does): “If I follow these few strictures, I’m a good person. I’m not obligated to do any more or less.” If I go to a vegan restaurant, I expect that they wouldn’t serve me honey (at least without stating so explicitly on the menu). On the other hand, I have little confidence that my “vegan” desserts are always made with vegan sugar. Again, I don’t see this as a justification for eating honey, but do think that as an issue, it’s worthy of consideration.

As to the concern about bee enslavement, I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, I totally agree that bee keeping has all of the conceptual trappings of the animal agriculture business. On the other hand, my impression is that (small scale) beekeepers actually like bees and do their best not to harm them. It was the conceptual (former) argument that won out for the majority of my ten years as a vegan, and perhaps the latter that has won out in recent years.

To say that eating honey is equivalent to drinking milk, though, seems a bit hyperbolic: (a) cows, left to their own devices, would only produce enough milk for their offspring, (b) beekeepers don’t usually keep their bees in deplorable conditions, ( c) I don’t think bees are usually pumped full of drugs, and (d) I haven’t heard about any largescale environmental impact to beekeeping. That being said, the difference is in degree, not in kind; so there’s a ounce of truth to the statement (exaggeration isn’t the ideal way to level an accusation though).

Aside from learning that honey isn’t vegan because bees are fed non-vegan sugar, I’m inclined to admit that my original gut reaction against honey consumption may have been the right one. Allowing a host of others’ inconsistencies to influence my diet in the opposite direction was probably a bit reactionary on some level–a reaction against the precise “ideological clarity” that Old Punk seeks to maintain. Of course, we all seek ideological clarity, but it’s important that that clarity doesn’t stand in for moral reasoning, as can frequently be case for subcultures with a strong, fixed belief set (just to be clear, I’m not accusing Old Punk of this; this comes from a vantage of self-criticism).

To put it simply, to eschew honey because of a definition seemed like a form of moral laziness, and my decision to eat honey was probably an (inadequately reasoned) attempt to spite moral laziness.

All of this long-windedness (on my part) aside, I’m returning to my previous no-honey position (see, friendly debate actually works!). I will not, however, criticize or attack those who do eat honey. I will not claim they’re not vegan. Just as I wouldn’t claim that folks who eat store-bought bread aren’t vegan. I will openly discuss why I’ve gain chosen to avoid honey, but from the vantage that it’s a complicated, nuanced issue–one that doesn’t preclude moral positions argued on both sides.

#6 The Old Punk on 08.19.10 at 6:03 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful reply Mark.

I think that this may be a cultural issue as much as anything – in the UK I haven’t come across any honey-eating ‘vegans’ in many, many years (25+, and the handful I did meet were commune-living hippy types in Findhorn, Scotland). And you certainly wouldn’t find honey in any product sold as vegan over here. I really didn’t realise that it’s still a live issue for some.

Also, I didn’t realise that sugar was quite so problematic for vegans in the US. In the UK, all of our sugar is vegan-friendly. One company used to use bone charcoal but stopped a long time ago.

I’m glad to hear you’ve decided to remove honey from your diet, and thanks again for taking the time to discuss and think about the issue.

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