On Thanksgiving, for some of us, the Ethical Society is the place to be.
I know, I know, if there's one thing we don't want to think about on a day we're giving thanks to Providence for the abundance of our lives, it's ethics. But that's the job of The Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia, and they're co-sponsoring a "Gentle Vegan Thanksgiving Day Community Potluck" at the Ethical Society HQ, 1906 Rittenhouse Square, on November 26 from noon to 3:00 p.m.
Now, many of us already have a T-day gig lined up with family and/or friends, but still others are still finalizing those plans. If you're one of those, and you've been curious about all the "vegan" talk lately, check it out. There's actually no "ethics" talk required.
It's been hard to miss the headlines on the addictive nature of cheese, on the mainstreaming of vegan products, on apparent government/industry scams to squelch them, on the serious health risks tied to meat-eating and on the farm sanctuary started by Jon and Tracey Stewart. A decade ago, such bombshells might drop every couple months. Now it seems like every few days. Are we speeding toward a paradigm shift?
Spoiler alert: Yes. I'll explain why at the Philly Vegan Day event on Sunday, Nov. 1, in Houston Hall in the Bistro Room of Houston Hall (on the University of Pennsylvania campus at 3417 Spruce St.) from 10 am to 2 pm, part of Eat Remarkably, hosted by Penn Vegan Society.
The centerpiece of the event, shortly after noon, will be the reading of the proclamation from Mayor Nutter that declares November 1st to be Philly Vegan Day. We'll also have a representative from Philly Vegan Pledge, a program for the veg-curious that makes going vegan an easy step-by-step process. And local vegan vendors will have food samples. But this is one vegan event that's about more than food.
Donald and Dorothy Watson coined the term 'vegan' in November 1944, to denote "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose." They also said it involves promoting "the development and use of animal-free alternatives," and that's the direction in which PVS is focusing.
For the first time in a long, long, long time, I went to see a Hollywood movie on its opening weekend: "The Martian."
Little did I know that a) I would be one of many helping push the box office to an epic, almost record-breaking weekend, or b) I'd have to write about it here.
The little I did know was from Daily News movie critic Gary Thompson, who told me it was "a sneaky vegan movie" on his way to submitting his review to the paper. And indeed, about the titular hero, an astronaut (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars during a storm when he's mistakenly thought to be dead, Thompson observes:
"...we almost don't notice that he survives as a composting vegan who lives on organic produce, solar panels and EVs.
Scott's point, I think, is not to show that man can survive on Mars, but that we can survive on Earth (note how Scott uses the movie's signature visual - a sprout poking its head through the soil)."
Resigned to await the next Mars mission years away, Damon's Mark Watney stretches the leftover food rations by burying whole potatoes in Martian soil mixed with the astronauts' carefully preserved bodily waste.
He's forced to do this because - even though six people could theoretically have become stranded for an indefinite time at the Martian outpost, and even though Damon's character seems able to find any possible gewgaw or gadget he needs (including a ginormous supply of duct tape), and even though Watney is a botanist - the inventory for this Mars mission seems to not include any seeds for food.
The flip side of Watney's positive ingenuity in making food grow on Mars is a weakness of NASA's planning: Why, you have to wonder, didn't the brilliant minds planning the mission think of this key potentially lifesaving inclusion (an extremely small and lightweight add-on compared to the quantities of luxuries shown) prior to lift-off? What was the staff botanist there for, anyway - to test the growth of long-stemmed roses?
Maybe the answer is that in this movie NASA is stuck in the same retro mindset as some laypeople I've heard remark that if and when we try to colonize Mars, we'll need to bring animals so the long-term inhabitants can have "high-quality protein." (Hey, you know what's a complete protein? Potatoes.)
Hopefully the millions who saw the movie this weekend will agree that the notion of food animals in space is patently idiotic, right? I mean, we've just watched scientists painstakingly inventory and jettison every possible bit of excess weight in order to gain propulsive power. Tossing food animals into the mix means the trip would either take longer - which would require more food rations - or eat up more precious fuel.
It's more than that, though: Live animals would require huge amounts of additional food brought along - or able to be grown - in order to even survive long enough to get to Mars. And the only advantage conferred is a psychological one - tons of biomass to deliver the same "earthly comfort" factor as, say, Commander Lewis' entire library of '70s disco, which fits on a microchip. Put simply, the math doesn't add up.
So if and when a real Martian mission happens - and the movie self-consciously serves as a cheerleader for same - I'm confident our real-world NASA will have though this through and will prioritize health and survivability over blind tradition.
But what of that second layer Thompson mentioned? Here on Earth, the human race is Watney, facing a ticking clock with our ability to creatively and efficiently use the resources at hand determining the difference between survival and extinction. And setting aside its ethics - or lack thereof - the raising of animals for food is a grossly inefficient luxury that our species is going to need to grow out of sooner than later.
We should take Scott's message to heart, then, and act as though we were "The Martian," looking at how we can get the most benefit from the stuff at hand. Compared to Mark Watney, we have tons more more fertile soil, fresh regenerating water, a greater variety of seeds and a slightly more relaxed timeline for shifting our eating entirely to plant foods.
One thing he had, but we don't, is a backup planet.
The new Latin-cuisine bar from Nicole Marquis, Bar Bombón, opened today just off Rittenhouse square (and just 3 doors down from the original, still hopping HipCityVeg), the fourth vegan restaurant opened by Marquis in a little over 3 years, and perhaps her most personally inspired yet.
Originally touted as "JoséJosé," the bar's candy-like name derives - Marquis told me in a sit-down chat earlier this month - from "delightful little thing," which is apt, as the pint-sized space is crammed with delightful details like the fine-grain arch, the ceiling pattern, tile work and shutters that combine to evoke the bars from San Juan, Puerto Rico that she recalls from time spent there (her mother is a Puerto Rican native). Having the bar "right smack against the entrance" is another San Juan touch, she noted.
The small space dovetails, as it must, with the street corner it's on, featuring a takeout window on the side opposite the entrance, though it was not open yet by the time I got there today. And Bar Bombón has opened in more ways than one: The shuttered French windows on the side slide open onto the alley off 18th street for additional open-air seating that extends the sense of space and the relaxing vibe.
Vegans often hear that we should be paying attention to solving the problems of human society before worrying about the problems of animals. I've shown that this is specious (as well as speciesist) given that the institutions humans have set up to exploit animals also invariably harm humans. But there's also a notion among vegans that mere avoidance of animal products should be only the start of more extensive good works.
In his new documentary, Unity (which opens August 12 nationwide), Shaun Monson paves some of that path, looking through a compassionate lens to show how our respect for animals and for each other are part of a whole, part of a positive system of relationships that we need to adopt - and soon.
Monson's previous documentary, Earthlings, is already legendary for presenting the issue of animal exploitation so clearly and powerfully that it has caused people to go vegan after the credits roll (I know people for whom this has happened), and has earned the moniker "the vegan-maker." Now Monson is using that cinematic method to treat a more mainstream issue. In a phone interview, he explained:
Philly's having a moment; vegan food is having a moment. Put them together and boom, momentum!
With constantly increasing vegan offerings among mainstream eateries and developments such as Vedge named by Zagat Philly as #1 'Best Food,' I'm seeing our town as a vegan destination in the making - and it's not just my vegan-colored glasses.
A new page at VisitPhilly.com, headlined "Veg Out: Many Philly-Area Eateries Make Vegans, Vegetarians & Gluten-Free Diners Feel Right At Home" promises that "Veg-loving visitors to Philly have plenty of options from which to choose" and then delivers, with scores of pithy descriptions accompanied by full info to match the veg-oriented with their soon-to-be-favorite Philly venue.
When Ikea announced a forthcoming line of "veggie" meatballs, a groundswell of feedback (obviously polite and well-reasoned) convinced the company to go the logical route and make them 100% vegan. So right off the bat, Ikea should be commended for that. Question is, of course, are these things any good?
Your intrepid vegan columnist, blogger and vegan-Philly trendmonger set out to answer this question, making a beeline for the Conshohocken store and bustling in the front door, already salivating.
Then... let's see. Um. I'm not the world's most frequent Ikea shopper, so I couldn't remember a) if the hot-food counter was on the upper or lower level in this store, or b) which shortcuts went to where I wanted to be. So after getting on the escalator to go to the second floor I wound up following the Maze of Commerce all around the building until finally reaching the Cafe.
Long story short, you send in your choice for Best Vegan Cheesesteak, plus, if you like, a reason you think it's the best. The first vote each place gets constitutes its nomination, and I will record those and their reasons in full here in updates to this blog post. The 2nd, 3rd, etc. votes just add up for that place, and at midnight on March 11 the top three vote-getters move on to the finals. I will keep the tally up to date as much as possible, but at least every 12 hours.
There are various ways to vote, as the rules specify. You can email me your choice for favorite Vegan Cheesesteak, or you can tweet it with the hashtag #vegancheesesteak, or you can send in the coupon that runs with my V for Veg column, OR you can simply indicate your choice right here, via a comment on this post. It's worth voting, not just because of your sense of civic responsibility, but because one person chosen randomly will win a delicious vegan dinner for two at Sprig & Vine in New Hope.