I cannot believe this is the eighth Ask A Vegan! I have been having so much fun with this and I love all of the different responses, photos and delicious recipes submitted. Everyone who has participated thus far has really impressed me with their honest answers and their willingness to share their Vegan stories with me and those who visit my little blog. This week is no different. Kenike (not her real names but has asked to remain semi-anonymous) is quite a resource for those new to Veganism, or seasoned veterans and she is especially helpful for residents of Arizona like myself. She lists hot spots in the valley to check out for Vegan grub, she posts recipes, links, articles regarding a plant-based diet and she even has her Fashion Fridays where she finds animal rights clothing and shares the images with her followers. I had the pleasure of meeting Kenike in May at the Vegan bake sale hosted by Kim (who will be featured on here too) and myself. I talked with Kenike, ate her peanut butter cups and stood next to her for almost three hours without realising that she was who she is. I had seen her blog and loved it, and there she was next to me and I was clueless! (: I know better now, and I look forward to more chatting and sharing of yummy foods at our next bake sale in July. And now...Kenike
Name: Kenike [keh-nee-keh]
Website: Chicos and Beans: A Desert Vegan Survival Guide
How long have you been Vegan?
4 years and 3 months. I went vegan on April 1st, 2006. Before that I was lacto-ovo vegetarian for 5 years. But I first wanted to go vegan when I was 14. It was a long journey.
What made you decide to go Vegan?
Originally, River Phoenix inspired me to go Vegan when I was 14 years old. I loved that boy. (You can read the whole story on my blog.) The sum-up is I never really lost that desire to go vegan, but I suppressed it because my family pressured me and then I didn’t think I could do it. Years later, I went vegetarian after making chicken a few times and being completely grossed out by the meat. Then I read an article (I don’t even remember what I read) that stated dairy and egg animals are often treated worse than animals used for meat. Then it didn’t seem to be enough to just stop eating meat. There were still millions of animals being tortured to death as a result of choosing dairy and eggs. I had to give myself a month-long trial to see if I could do it, because I didn’t think I could. But I totally did it, and it was easy, and I never looked back.
How do you feel health wise with this diet choice?
I feel great. I eat much healthier, less processed foods, than I did as an omnivore and even as a vegetarian. However, I still tend to be a junk food vegan and will indulge in chips, cookies, and fried foods. When I eat closer to a macrobiotic vegan diet, I feel the best I have ever felt in my life.
Are you open about your Veganism?
Absolutely. I usually only bring it up when I will be sharing a meal with someone or if someone else brings up veganism or the conversation provides a gentle opportunity for me to share information about veganism or animal rights. I try to be a vegan role model for the people I encounter in life, so I am always willing to talk about it and answer questions. Tho don’t ask me for facts, I never remember those. And I try to avoid talking about it at the dinner table because that always gets a little dicey, but that’s usually when I get asked the most about it. I usually say, you know, I’d be happy to talk about that with you a little later.
My family talks about my veganism with other people though, and they often call me up and say things like, so-and-so at work has a question or wants a recipe or needs a restaurant recommendation. I love being asked those things. I didn’t have any experienced vegan mentors when I started out and I pretty much had to learn by trial and error. Now that I have 4 years under my belt, I have answers to most vegan needs, which is why I started the Chicos and Beans blog. It gives my family and friends a place to go to learn more about my diet/lifestyle, or they can refer others, and most importantly, it’s there for new and current vegans to find what they need, especially local vegans.
If so, are you involved in any activism i.e. protests, leafleting etc…
My activism is very low-key. I have participated in Vegan Voices (via AZVegan.org) a few times, that’s where vegans and activists get together and hand write letters to companies for various animal/vegan causes. I’ve done a few Farm Sanctuary walks and the fundraiser dinner. I stick animal rights stickers on the envelopes to all my paper bills that I mail. I have a vegan bumper sticker (though I am just waiting for the day where my car suffers some trauma because of it). I actively promote vegan food by baking and cooking for friends. Probably my favorite activism is my tradition of having a vegan thanksgiving every year, I call it the Thankful Veg-head Dinner. Approximately 2 weeks before Thanksgiving I make this huge vegan feast and invite my family and friends; omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike. It gets a little crazy but it is the most awesome time with some of the best vegan food. Everyone, including the omnivores, goes home with a full, happy belly.
What does your family, friends, co-workers think about your diet?
This is a mixed bag. My sister and brother-in-law are especially awesome at making me vegan treats all the time. My family and friends usually compromise with restaurants, aiming for vegan-friendly ones when we are together. And for home-made meals, my family and friends usually check in with me to make sure they have something for me or that I am taking care of my own food needs depending on the situation. I almost always bring something to share as part of my vegan activism, as well as to prevent my starvation. That doesn’t mean some of them don’t shake their head at me or completely mock my food choices or grumble about “catering” to my food needs, because it still happens. But it’s not some crazy kind of food/family war zone, just the occasional insensitive comment here and there. I’ve had plenty food victories as well. My meat and potatoes dad liked this pesto tapenade I made so much that he made it to take to a work potluck. And he couldn’t tell the difference when I veganized the family’s carrot cake recipe. SCORE!
What advice would you give those interested in becoming Vegan?
Network with other vegans! You need these vegan friends to commiserate with, and for tips and recipe ideas. Join a vegan meet-up group and go out to eat with them or participate in one of their potlucks. Read tons of vegan blogs. Buy VegNews Magazine. Focus on doing what you can and on being consistent, but not on being a “perfect vegan”, there’s no such thing.
Would you eat at Mc Donald’s if they carried a Vegan burger?
While I go out of my way to avoid McDonalds because they lie about their ingredients and even their fries aren’t vegan, I have to say “possibly” on this. The thing is, I’ve travelled enough to know that sometimes there are very few options available to a vegan. Say I am driving across country and starving and I am short on time and not familiar with the area and there’s a McDonalds in this small town I am driving through, so maybe I stop for a vegan burger. Now, hopefully, I have planned my trip a helluva lot better than that and have no need to stop at McDonalds, but I can’t say never. And travelling internationally, especially where I don’t speak the language, there are some situations where an international chain with a reliable menu is a lifesaver, and the McDonalds vegan burger would be a viable option for me. Again, hopefully I’ve planned better and actually try to enjoy the native vegan fare, but the plan doesn’t always come together. And there is something to be said for the idea that if vegans boycott all of the companies that aren’t completely vegan, then the mainstream folks will never be exposed to the vegan products because the vegan population is not a big enough cash flow for most companies to grow, compete, and succeed. So, to some degree we should support the good vegan products of the less-than-perfect companies, or they will never make any changes, and the demand for more vegan products will not grow.
What is your least favorite question that you are asked about your diet?
I hate when I specifically say, “I do not eat animal products,” and then I am asked, “So, do you eat fish?” Uh, no. Fish is an animal too! I hate that people do not make the connection that certain animals are indeed animals. I have to wonder if they failed Biology. And I actually blame the bible and Catholicism for training people to think that fish is not meat. The flesh from a fish IS meat, it’s the same deal as with cows and chickens and pigs. Argh.
What is your favorite dish?
Pizza is probably my all-time favorite food. And peanut butter smoothies. And sweet and sour seitan. And carrot cake. I should probably stop there.
What do you typically eat at Thanksgiving?
At my Thankful Veg-head Dinner, the hands-down biggest crowd pleaser for both omnivores and veg-heads is the Sage- and Pumpkin Seed-Encrusted Seitan With Roasted Garlic-Pumpkin Sauce from VegCooking.com. I only make it once a year because it is slightly labor-intensive but it is worth it. (Hint: If you decide to make this, the only place I have been able to find pumpkin seed oil is AJ’s Fine Foods.)
If I could make you any flavor cupcake in the world what would it be?
Carrot cake…but you’d have to use my carrot cake recipe because I am notoriously picky about carrot cake. Or zucchini cake or something with peanut butter or creamy coconut.
Please share your favorite Vegan recipe.
I suppose I should share my carrot cake recipe after all that grandiose talk above.
Kenike's Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
2 cups flour
2 cups grated carrots
2 cups vegan sugar
1 cup oil (vegetable or canola)
1/2 cup firm tofu (blended)
3 tablespoons applesauce (plain, natural)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
Blend tofu in food processor until creamy and lump-free. Mix all ingredients together in large mixing bowl until well-combined. Pour into lightly greased 9x13 rectangle cake pan (typical size).
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 50 minutes. Let cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack. Let cool completely and then frost.
Tip: Ovens vary the cooking time. Use a toothpick to check it periodically after about 30 minutes to see if it is done in the middle. If it still needs cooking in the middle but the top is looking done, put a piece of foil over the cake so it doesn’t burn and let cook until finished. Do not overcook…the edges will become dried out. If you are making cupcakes, decrease the cook time appropriately.
1 stick (1/2 cup) vegan margarine
1 package (8 oz) vegan cream cheese
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 pound (16 oz) powdered sugar
Blend the vegan cream cheese and vegan margarine in a mixing bowl. A hand mixer or standing mixer work best for this. Then add vanilla and powdered sugar. Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. This should make plenty of frosting for the entire cake, and maybe a little extra. If you are simply frosting cupcakes, you can cut this recipe in half.