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Seventeen Years a Vegan – Happy New Year 2017

drawn chicken in a pan

Happy New Year! 2017! Wow. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to see those last two digits change, and with the progression, I look forward to a blank slate–a year filled with possibility and opportunity. I’m also reminded of years past, and I grow nostalgic of certain milestones in my life.

drawn number 17

This New Year’s Eve, I celebrated 17 years as a non-meat eater. The stark revelation of how many years it has been since that cold Illinois night when I looked down at my skillet and decided that I could no longer be a hypocrite nearly overwhelms me. That night, I put a change into motion that forever altered the course of my life. No, it wasn’t the only life-altering moment I’ve ever experienced, but it was a major one.

Growing Up…

My family believed that if you didn’t ingest meat, you weren’t healthy. There were meals where meat was absent, but my parents tried to make sure that a meat was served at least once a day. Meat equaled nutrition to my parents. They did not see it as a bad thing, and they certainly did not have a clue as to what was happening to animals on the slaughter room floor. I never discussed the plight of farm animals with my parents. My father had hunted animals and my mother cleaned and cooked the animals he killed, but as a child, that was as close to a discussion or experience I had with them regarding humane methods of killing animals.

I never cared for meat. Yes, I ate it. I was taught to eat what was placed before me. However, when given the choice, I gravitated toward vegetables and fruits.

Educating Myself and Others…

From the age of 18, I was involved in animal welfare causes and rescue organizations. With each passing year, I became more involved, and I would later begin working with a local humane society and eventually become the vice president of the Board of Directors.

As an animal advocate, I rescued animals from horrific conditions and treatment. I saw behind the curtain of slaughterhouses when I learned how animals raised for human consumption are treated and killed. Once you know these facts, you can never “unknow” them. You can never mute the cries of pain.

I spent a majority of my time educating the public about humane animal treatment.  I opposed dog fighting and worked to enact legislation that would increase the penalties for participating in the activity. I worked diligently to help provide a voice for the animals who had none.

illustration of confused girl

Changing Tastes…

Suddenly, on New Year’s Eve in 1999, as I stood above my skillet filled with popping fried chicken, THE truth hit me, and I could not unring that bell. How could I, in an attempt to raise funds and awareness for abused animals, participate in a fundraiser where I served a meal that included animals who were treated similarly or far worse? I was a hypocrite, and I did not want to be one. The only difference was a label–one is pet and the other is a commodity. Pain and suffering spans all species and labels. I turned off the skillet, and over the next few days, my three dogs would consume the chicken that pushed me into a new year and awareness about my life’s journey.


illustration chicken fry


I lived in a rural part of Illinois. The small store twelve miles from my house sold pantry staples, but if you wanted something else, you had to travel to one town 45 minutes away, or drive over an hour in the other direction. It was 1999, and meat substitutions weren’t on every store shelf and readily available. I didn’t have a friend who was vegetarian or vegan, so I didn’t have a model from which to learn or emulate. As a lover of food, especially southern foods, I really didn’t know what to do, but I knew that my days of eating meat were over. I became a vegetarian.

I embraced the challenge, and on New Year’s Eve in 2009, I became a vegan.

Seventeen years later…

“I couldn’t live without meat” is a comment I’ve heard many times. Well, look at me, eating a plant-based diet for 17 years and living just fine! Deciding to leave animal products and by-products out of my diet is the best decision I have ever made. Unlike other decisions, I’ve never regretted it.

Happy New Year! May 2017 be a year of growth and success for you.

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Book Review: Afro-Vegan Cookbook by Bryant Terry

Afro-Vegan Cookbook by Bryant Terry

I’m pleased to present the review of and my cooking adventures with The Afro-Vegan cookbook by Bryant Terry. As a cookbook collector, I think the cookbook is beautiful. The plant-based recipes are southern with African and Caribbean influences.

In the words of the author:

Imagine if you removed the animal products from African, Caribbean, Southern, and other Afro-influenced cuisines, then meticulously cut, pasted, and remixed the food to produce recipes with farm-fresh ingredients as their heart and soul: that is Afro-Vegan.

As a fun element, each recipe has a musical soundtrack suggestion, and there are film and book suggestions on some recipes.

Afro-Vegan Cookbook by Bryant Terry

I know that many people shy away from a book like this because they fear the recipes will be too far outside of their comfort zone, or the recipes will require expensive ingredients that are hard to find. The ingredients used in the recipes won’t require a trek to a specialty store. This is very important to a lot of people, especially those who are new to cooking, and those who are intimidated by cooking recipes that seem foreign or confusing. I have a number of super fancy ingredient cookbooks, and while I love to look through them (because I do look through my cookbooks, even when I have no intention of making anything from them), the convoluted recipe list doesn’t inspire me to get in the kitchen. The recipes, photos, and ingredient lists in Afro-Vegan make me want to throw on my apron and get to work.

You need a bit of an adventurous palate for these recipes. The foundation of the recipes are based on solid pantry staples, but the manner in which Terry combines spices and introduces other ingredients into a dish may have you raising an eyebrow. Don’t fret. I made five of the recipes, and I enjoyed each of them.

The book isn’t heavy on images. A photo doesn’t accompany every recipe. I know some people like the idea of seeing every recipe photographed, but the images that are included are beautiful.

Smashed Potatoes made by Jeannie Bushnell

Potatoes are one of my favorite foods, and the smashed potatoes with peas, corn, and chile-garlic oil recipe is easy to prepare, and it will undoubtedly become a favorite menu item for your family. Don’t be afraid of the chile-garlic oil. If you don’t want it too spicy, cut back on the chile pepper. Remember, the mixture will have a great deal more spice when it is made fresh and will mellow out after it has been in the fridge overnight. Try it and see how you like it.


All Green Spring Slaw made by Jeannie Bushnell

The All-Green Spring Slaw is a great side for the smashed potatoes, because it calms the heat of the chile-garlic oil. This fresh and light dish can be paired with just about anything. The dressing has a foundation of silken tofu that can easily be whipped up and added to another favorite salad. I’m normally not a fan of slaw, but this green cabbage recipe features additions like peas, sugar snap peas, celery, and raw pumpkin seeds.


Glazed Carrot Salad made by Jeannie Bushnell

You may think you know glazed carrots, but I bet you’ve never had them quite like this. I make a sweet glazed carrot dish around the holidays every year (I am from Texas!), but this savory dish is a delightful twist on that menu favorite. This recipe will surely surprise your guests and palette, as the cinnamon, garlic, cumin seeds, cilantro, and peanuts propel this dish to another level. The roasted cumin seeds add a spice that is mellow and delicious.  This would be a great item to bring to a potluck or summer barbeque.


Collard Greens and Cabbage with Lots of Garlic made by Jeannie M. Bushnell

Collard greens have been a staple of my diet my entire life. Collard greens are easy to make and have many health benefits. This recipe calls for thinly sliced collard greens, and as someone that usually just roughly chops or tears the greens, this was new for me. The thin cuts combined with cabbage lightens the flavor of the greens and prevents the greens from turning into the large mush pile that so many people cite as a reason that they refrain from the vegetable. I was pleased to find bagged collard greens that were thinly sliced. If you are short on time, finding them sliced will help reduce preparation time.

I would never have thought to throw cabbage in with my greens, but I really enjoyed the extra texture and flavors. I love garlic, and this recipe calls for seven cloves! Again, if that is too much garlic for you, adjust the amount to fit your tastes.


Coconut Rice Pudding made by Jeannie M. Bushnell

Of all the recipes that I tried, this one took the most preparation. It requires  prior planning, as the raw cashews and basmati rice need to be soaked overnight, and the dessert needs to chill. The nectarines and peach puree add sweetness to the cashew cream and rice. Smooth and delicious, this pudding is already a favorite in our house.

Put the pudding in these little 4 oz. canning jars, and you’ve created a portable snack that is ready when you want it. You can toss them in your lunch sack or make them in advance for a weekend outing. They make a great snack any time of the week.

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Seasoned cooks and newbies alike will benefit from this cookbook. Based on many well-known recipes, the mundane recipes you may have grown accustomed to are taken to new heights of flavor. The techniques used in the book are unlikely to confuse or overwhelm a new cook. Additionally, this book would make a great gift for anyone who is attempting to incorporate more plant-based recipes into their diet.

Interested in trying one of his recipes? Check out this recipe for Muscovado-Roasted Plantains.

Find Afro-Vegan in an independent bookstore near you!

You can follow Mr. Terry on FB and Twitter, too.

Disclaimer: I received this free book from Blogging for Books for this review. I’ve provided my honest opinion and experience with the book.