Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What's Wrong with Palm Oil??

I only recently learned of the devastation harvesting palm oil creates on natural habitats, destroying rainforests and ecosystems and crippling the orangutan and other animal populations.

In an effort to raise awareness I have tried to find the most pertinent information from what I consider to be reliable sources. Education, although sad, is empowerment and people must be aware of what's going on in the world, especially when something causes so much harm that can be avoided.

Palm oil, one of the cheapest and most popular oils, also commonly referred to as palm kernel oil, palm fruit oil, and dozens of other names, is found in about half of all packaged goods, if not more. Palm oil can be also listed as PKO, palmate, sodium laureth sulphate, sodium lauryl sulphates, glyceryl stearate, stearic acid, chemicals which contain palm oil, and others, so it really can be difficult to know if this ingredient is in any of the foods you're eating or any of the products you're using. It can even be listed under the blanket term: vegetable oil.

Many shampoos, lipsticks and other make-ups, candy bars and other snacks, and even crackers and other food and cosmetic products often contain palm oil. Even beloved vegan products such as Daiya cheese uses palm oil in their block cheeses (not the shredded cheeses to my knowledge), Lucy's vegan cookies, and delicious vegan candy bars such as Jokerz, among others.

According to Greenpeace: "Demand from emerging economies such as India and China as well as a growing reliance on biofuels in Europe and elsewhere means global production is only set to grow... The environmental damage that can be caused when expansion of industrial production continues unchecked and the undeniable link between palm oil and deforestation can be witnessed via the destroyed peatlands and rainforests in Indonesia, the world’s largest producer."

Many different animals have adapted to the specific environment from which palm oil derives, and reducing the forests and destroying the land from production is causing many species to dwindle rapidly, soon to be on the brink of extinction. The UK-based news publication The Independent claims "The wildlife-rich forests of Indonesia and Malaysia are being chain-sawed to make way for palm-oil plantations. Thirty square miles are felled daily in a burst of habitat destruction that is taking place on a scale and speed almost unimaginable in the West... When the rainforests disappear almost all of the wildlife – including the orangutans, tigers, sun bears, bearded pigs and other endangered species – and indigenous people go. In their place come palm-oil plantations stretching for mile after mile, producing cheap oil."

Please be aware of the devastation palm oil causes and be compassionate enough to check your food and product labels. Do your own research and let everyone know about this. I was unaware of this for so long, and, sadly, I'm sure many others are as well. I have stopped buying products that contain palm oil as much as possible (by this I mean I read all ingredients and if I think it contains palm oil I do not purchase it, but with all the many ways it can be listed, it can be difficult to know I am avoiding it 100%) and will continue to boycott them. Please do the same.

Also, if you choose to become more active concerning this problem, please voice your opinion by calling companies to let them know you are against the use of palm oil and will not be using their products until they stop using it as an ingredient. Spread the word!

My Sources:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Erin Baker's Breakfast Cookie: Chocolate Chunk

During the work week I am usually in a rush to get to work on time, so after showering and getting myself ready, feeding and walking my two dogs, and taking care of our chinchilla, I usually only have time for a quick breakfast. I often eat a bowl of cereal with almond milk or, occasionally, a bowl of oatmeal or cream of wheat.

While browsing online for cool new vegan foods (am I the only one who does this?) I found Erin Baker's Chocolate Chunk Breakfast Cookies, which are vegan. There are lots of varieties of these breakfast cookies, but not all are vegan-friendly. The reviews were mostly favorable (4.1 stars out of 5 on Amazon with 29 reviews total), so I decided to buy a pack, which consists of 12 individually wrapped 3 ounce cookies. I paid $16.56 USD for the dozen, which equates to $1.38 per cookie (or $0.46 per ounce). This product qualified for free shipping through with my total purchase of over $25.

I was excited to try them when they arrived, so I didn't wait until breakfast the next morning. With the first bite I thought they were just okay, nothing too special, but they actually got tastier as I ate more, which I found odd but delightful. The first bite was a little bland and dry yet soft, but as I took a few more bites it seemed to get sweeter as my tastebuds adjusted to this product. They are sweet and tender like a soft-batch cookie and a little chewy, not hard or crispy at all. You can see the oats and other whole grains in the cookie. They taste great. I've eaten two of them (one last night and one this morning for breakfast) and I'm not at all disappointed.

I highly recommend this product. It's easy to eat (unwrap the cookie and eat it), versatile (can be heated in the toaster), and vegan, which means there is no cholesterol or cruelty. They are a fast choice for breakfast and full and satisfying. The only complaint I have is that it could contain more chocolate chips! It's good the way it is, but I would like it better with more chunks of chocolate. I'm going to try the peanut butter chocolate chunk variety next; I think that one will be very good!

Erin Baker's Chocolate Chunk Breakfast Cookies are all-natural, made with whole grains, and sweetened with fruit puree. Because they are all natural and don't contain preservatives, the shelf life is only a few months, but the cookies can be stored in the freezer for a longer period of time. (Ingredients: Whole grain oats, unbleached wheat flour, prune puree, evaporated cane juice, chocolate chunks, water, brown rice syrup, canola oil, banana puree, inulin, molasses, baking soda, vanilla extract, sea salt, baking powder, cinnamon.)

At 300 calories per cookie, they're a bit high in calories, but considering how much protein (7 grams per serving), fiber (5 grams per serving), and nutrients (iron 20% RDA, vitamin A 6%, vitamin C 2%, and calcium 2%) they provide, I don't think it's so high when putting those things in perspective. They keep me feeling full for hours after eating one, so it's perfect for a quick, delicious breakfast. Great with a cup of non-dairy milk!

Find more information at or check them out on Amazon by clicking either of the pictures of the cookies.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Health is Wealth Veggie Munchees Review

Health is Wealth is an all natural company that makes a variety of natural vegan and vegetarian products. They do also make some chicken products. The thing I like most about Health is Wealth is that all their products are labeled very clearly on the front and a decent variety of products are available at my local grocery store.

I have tried the following products from Health is Wealth: Vegetable Spring Rolls, Thai Spring Rolls, Chicken Free Nuggets, and others. Most recently I sampled the Veggie Munchees for lunch. The product is filled mainly with cabbage and carrots wrapped by an enriched wheat coating. It is flavorful. I did have mine with duck sauce (sweet and sour sauce) and it's also good with soy sauce or even vegan sour cream to enhance the flavors. Of course, they are also satisfying plain as well.

The serving size is 6 munchees and each package has about 12 munchees, thus providing two suggested servings. One serving is slightly high in sodium (at about 21% recommended daily intake!) but contains very low fat, only 150 calories, about 11% of your daily fiber, 4 grams of protein, 20% of the recommended vitamin C, 10% of the recommended vitamin A, and some other nutrients. Because they are vegan, of course there is no cholesterol in this food.

Health is Wealth Vegan Veggie Munchees are very easy to prepare. I just popped them on a plate and in the microwave for about a minute (there is no toaster oven or conventional oven at my work). I had half a package for lunch with a small side salad.

I was not a huge fan of their mock chicken products, but would like to try their vegan sprouted burgers, which are also gluten free.

Health is Wealth has been around since 1977 and make all their products in the USA. They use no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Visit their website to check out all their products, the company philosophy, and where to buy:

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Loving Hut, Falls Church, VA

I've had take-out from Loving Hut in Falls Church, Virginia, before when I was at a meeting in Manassas and simply had to try the food, even though it was about 20 miles out of the way on a stretch of incredibly high-traffic road! Loving Hut is an all-vegan restaurant with a decent sized menu and an excellent reputation, at least from what I can find online. For carry out I got a few appetizers (the golden rolls, golden nuggets, and fried wontons), the club sandwich, and a raspberry cheesecake. Everything was phenomenal and the fries that came with the sandwich were even incredibly delicious.

Check out the menu for the Falls Church location: Loving Hut menu.

Anyway, when my boyfriend and I were going to a concert at Verizon Center (only about 10 miles from Loving Hut) I knew we needed to stop in for dinner.

We definitely came with huge appetites. Since we live about an hour and a half away, we ordered extra so we'd have plenty for leftovers at home. Bryan ordered the corn and potato chowder to start. It cam with an awesome grain bread which was good on its own or dunked in the soup.

We ordered the fried wontons, golden rolls, and summer rolls as appetizers. (A picture of the summer rolls is directly below this paragraph.)

I was torn trying to decide what to have for an entree. I wanted something that was unique and that I don't cook all the time already at home, such as burgers and stir-fry, so I decided on the Spicy Cha Cha, which is their rendition of a vegan breaded/fried shrimp. Bryan decided to try the Sesame Eggplant Tofu, which was very nicely presented (much nicer than the photo directly below, which is the leftovers from our visit).

The Sesame Eggplant Tofu came with eggplant, tofu, mushrooms, onions, peppers, sesame, a delicious sauce, and rice on the side. Bryan wasn't overly fond of the texture of the eggplant. He thought the sauce made it a bit too soggy and the skin left on the eggplant was slightly tough to him, but I thought it was really good, especially today when I ate it for lunch. The tofu was nicely seasoned and firm on the outside but soft and flavorful on the inside.

The friend shrimp I was a bit hesitant to order, as I have had fake shrimp before and it was only so-so, but never have I ordered it breaded. I decided to be adventurous and was very glad, because it was great. The crust was spiced perfectly, a bit salty and tasted a bit like the sea in some way, which made the coating and the shrimp together delicious. (Pictured above, both whole and cut in half.) Finally, we got dessert to go. I got the strawberry cheesecake and Bryan ordered the Death by Chocolate cake, which really was to die for! Unfortunately, I didn't snap and photos of the cakes before they were greedily consumed.

We had leftovers of almost everything to enjoy the next day. I took the rest of the Sesame Eggplant Tofu to work with me for lunch the next day and the remaining Summer Roll. Bryan had the Spicy Cha Cha leftovers and the Wontons. With all the food we ordered, our bill was only $46 and some change. To sum it all up, we ordered a soup, three appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts for under $50!

I highly recommend Loving Hut if you're in the area. The diverse menu and delicious food can draw almost anyone in! Both times I've sampled their food I was impressed and satisfied. The prices are very reasonable, the staff is polite, and the food is great! Check out the reviews on

Monday, February 4, 2013

Today: Three Months into my Vegan Transition

Today marks three months since I started transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years, but being a vegan is completely different. I always ate mostly vegan food and used a great deal of products not tested on animals. For example, Giovanni shampoos and conditioners and Merry Hempsters lip balm were always some of my favorite products.

Now I read every ingredient and try to buy as compassionately as I can, which means getting a great deal of stuff online and at natural food stores. Some of the larger grocery stores in my area, like Martin's, does have a large organic and vegan section, for which I am grateful, but there are not too many vegan-friendly restaurants like I am used to back in Baltimore, where I grew up. I have been in Martinsburg, West Virginia now for over three years and it has its pros and cons just like everywhere else.

I am eating much healthier now that I have cut out my greatest weakness: cheese. No more cholesterol in anything I eat and usually the meals are lower in fat and higher in nutrients. I am eating a great deal more fresh fruits and vegetables as well and less fatty snacks, such as potato chips with dip. I always thought giving up the cheese would be harder. I loved cheese very much, and am sure I was addicted to it. (If you don't think cheese is truly addictive, research casomorphins!)

I have had a few struggles here and there, but I am proud of myself. I've thought about cheating a few times but I've stayed strong and have felt better because of my strength! I am strong enough not to give in to the petty desires of my tastebuds, and I am very opposed to animals being used as commodities (they are living beings who feel hurt, pain, and fear, just like anyone's precious pets do, so if you wouldn't eat your dog or your cat, why would you eat a cow, pig, or other animal?), and am saddened and angered by the horrendous conditions and practices used in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my excitement for this mini-milestone today! Three months down and many years to go with my more compassionate lifestyle! There are so many exciting recipes I am anxious to try. I always knew I was meant to be vegan.

For breakfast today I ate Nature's Path Organic Flax Plus Red Berry Crunch Cereal with almond milk; between breakfast and lunch I ate a banana. For lunch I had a leftover slice of Amy's Vegan Margherita Pizza, and some corn and collard greens mixed together with a dash of sea salt and vegan butter. Later at work I will have a small snack of sesame pretzels with roasted garlic hummus.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Breaded Chicken Patties Comparison: Morningstar Farms and Boca

Both Morningstar Farms and Boca chik'n patties look very similar; each patty is round and almost identical in size with a golden colored breading. Both taste very similar as well and have many nutritional similarities. Both are found in the frozen foods section and contain four patties per standard box. The prices are very similar, although I find the Morningstar Farms items tend to be priced slightly higher than Boca products.

Main Differences between Boca Chik'n Patties and MSF Chik Patties

First and foremost, Morningstar Farm Chik Patties are not vegan, so I don't eat them any longer. They not only contain milk but also egg. They are definitely not very allergen-friendly (soy, milk, wheat, and egg ingredients).

Morningstar Farms (MSF) is part of the Kellogg's Company. Morningstar Farms seems to have a wider array of products available, including mostly vegetarian-friendly items and a few vegan items. As far as I can tell, Boca Foods Company is not part of a larger, more popular company. Boca is, however, endorsed by Weight Watchers. Boca has some variety with their products, but nowhere near as extensive as MSF. Even in the small town I live I can find both products at the local grocery stores and even Wal-mart.

Similarities between Boca Chik'n Patties and MSF Chik Patties

It's been a really long time since I've eaten real chicken, so I honestly don't know if these taste like chicken. Others who have not been vegetarian as long as I have say they do. I think they're incredibly tasty and versatile. I have used the chik'n patties on sandwiches, sliced on top of salads, in wraps, in pot pies, chick'n salads, and by themselves, among other ways. There are tons of recipes that can use these veg*n chicken patties.

Both products are about 71 grams per patty. The Boca has about 11 grams of protein per serving while the MSF patty supplies about 8 grams of protein. Both have approximately 150 calories per serving and provide 10% RDV iron and other vitamins and minerals. There is zero cholesterol in either product. The vegan diet contains no cholesterol by nature.

I think the Boca patties are slightly more juicy than the Morningstar Farms brand, but both are very similar in texture and flavor. They both have crispy, delicious breading that does not fall off. The patties can be prepared in the oven (which is probably the healthiest preparation option), in the microwave (which can tend to make the patties slightly mushier than may be desired), or even pan-fried. I have tried them each of these ways and cook them differently depending on for what I am using them.

Both do contain soy and wheat as some of the main ingredients, so those with food sensitivities should be aware of this. Even if you are not vegetarian or vegan, if you are looking for a healthier, tasty alternative to animal products, give this a try. There are often coupons readily available online for both companies.