Like yoga and vegetarianism, vegan eating has moved more into the mainstream in recent years. Vegans shun foods that contain animal ingredients of any kind, including eggs, honey, and dairy products such as milk and cheese. A vegan diet, they believe, is better for human health, kinder to the environment, and avoids unjust treatment of animals -- even, as in the case of bees raised for honey production, insects. This sort of eating regimen might sound challenging to follow. But Boston has a surprising number of vegan restaurants, and not just those with African and Asian menus, which often have numerous meatless and dairy-free offerings.
I had walked countless times past this pretty complex with green awnings, which houses a Buddhist meditation hall, a bookstore, a gift shop, and a vegetarian dining room and teahouse. After finally stopping by for lunch, it instantly became one of my new favorite restaurants.
We were seated by a robed female monk , her head shorn. The menuis short and simple: hot and cold teas (I'm partial to kumquat, which tastes like lemonade extraordinaire), a half-dozen a la carte items (such as turnip cakes, cabbage-filled spring rolls, and steamed veggie dumplings), and a $5.95 lunch special that buys you soup, steamed rice, and four vegetarian dishes.
The veggie dishes, which change frequently, include sauteed cabbage and carrots, pan-fried steamed bean curd, Chinese greens, and tofu scramble . I'm neither vegan nor vegetarian, but every food item I tried (which was all of them, except for the dessert custard bun) was delicious -- hot, fresh, flavorful, nutritious. Together, they made an invigoratingly nourishing meal.
Grasshopper, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, was one of the city's first all-vegan restaurants. Its motto, "Where the animals live to tell it all," reflects the diet of its Vietnamese-born owner, Hoai Nguyen. Like many natives of Southeast Asia, Nguyen and his family eat "the Buddha way," he explains, meaning a diet that shows respect for life by not requiring the death or mistreatment of living creatures.
In addition to many vegetable dishes, Grasshopper serves several faux-meat products, including a vegi-pork chop made of wheat gluten and vegetarian chicken made of tofu. Despite trying both with an open mind, I found them entirely unappetizing. They look like thick slabs of processed lunch meat and taste like bland bologna.
The vegi-shrimp are better. Made of taro root, they resemble genuine crustaceans; they're curved, streaked pinkish-orange, and fringed at each end, as if missing their tails and antennae. They even have bouncy shrimp-like texture. By themselves, they're fairly tasteless, but a salty sauce adds pizzazz.
Grasshopper makes its own cheesecake, too, using tofu, tofu cream cheese, and maple syrup.
You can also find fine vegan Asian food at My Thai Cafe in Coolidge Corner (404 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-739-8830), Buddha's Delight in Chinatown (3 Beach St., second floor. 617-451-2395), and Masao's Kitchen (581 Moody St., Waltham, 781-647-7977. masaoskitchen.com).
"Above all, we serve hope," reads the sign on the front door of this vegan pizzeria and sub shop. Formerly T.J.'s House of Pizza, the business changed ownership, tweaked its name, and went totally vegan last summer. Among its intentionally misspelled menu offerings: hamm, turkee, and rohst beaf sandwiches, as well as chikhin cutlet subs and sauhsage pizzas, with or without cheeze.
These substitute meat and dairy products are the same name-brand items sold at many grocers, including Gardenburger patties, Follow Your Heart soy cheese, and Smart Deli cold cuts. Some taste a lot like the real thing. Eaten alone, the "meetbahls" have an odd softness. But in a toasted bun with tomato sauce, onions, and green peppers, I couldn't tell the difference. The soy cheese on the pizza thins out as it melts, like a smooth cottage cheese. It lacks the richness of dairy but is lower in saturated fat.
According to owner Steve Karian, T.J.'s is the prototype for a "national chain of all-vegan activist comfort food restaurants" aimed at shutting down slaughterhouses and mainstreaming cruelty-free eating. And what exactly is a scallywaggle? Explains Karian: "Somebody who wants to transform the world and has a good time doing it."
You can also find scrumptious vegan pizza at Veggie Planet in Harvard Square (Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge. 617-661-1513. veggieplanet.net),where the vegan oddlot (tomatoes, spinach, basil tofu ricotta, calamata olives, fried garlic) and vegan peanut curry are available on organic dough or atop rice.
This North Shore raw-foods cafe is not only all-vegan, it's also wheat-free, tofu-free, soy-free, mostly gluten-free, and almost entirely organic.
The menu offers soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, hot entrees, fresh juices, and smoothies. There's pad Thai with cashew butter sauce. Oat crust pizza with cashew mozzarella. Pizza topped with cranberry, apple slices, leeks, and roasted rosemary walnuts. Almond pecan herb pate. Salads with mung beans, clover, sprouted wild rice, lentils, and chick peas. Tacos with cashew sour cream in golden flax shells. Red beet ravioli with carrot filling.
Seeds, nuts, and grains are often soaked and sprouted, a process said to increase their nutrient levels. Items that require warming are put in low-heat dehydrators that preserve nutrition by not breaking down healthy natural enzymes.
Simply put: power food.
You can find similar vegan meals at Life Alive (194 Middle St., Lowell. 978-453-1311. lifealive.com), whose organic, unprocessed foods -- replete with brown rice, carrots, beets, broccoli, tofu, squash, almonds, kale, and mushrooms -- will leave you feeling like Superman (or Superwoman).
In a commercial kitchen in East Somerville, the sweet aroma of cocoa powder fills the air. Here, Brazil native Ademar Reis, with his wife and son, make an all-vegan line of cookies, brownies, and shortbreads in flavors like mocha chocolate chip, banana walnut, lemon poppyseed, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin.
Reis launched his baking business after trying a cookie at a natural-foods store and declaring it "terrible." Convinced he could do better, he started Boston Cookies in 1999 and now sells his products at Whole Foods and Store 24, as well as online.
The cookies are notably chewier than those made with eggs and butter, and they're a satisfying healthier alternative, although the brownies have a strange grainy texture. As for the crunchy shortbread (flavors: vanilla wafer, chocolate chip, pecan), I didn't even miss the butter. All baked goods are free of cholesterol, trans fat, and hydrogenated oil.
You can also find tasty vegan sweets at Hippie Chick Bakery (11 Elm St., Amesbury. 978-388-6644. hippiechickbakery.com) and Cafe Indigo (128 Hall St., Concord, N.H.603-224-1770. cafeindigo.com),a vegan bakery that ships its cakes, cookies, pies, breads, and cinnamon rolls nationally.
CONFERENCE LOOKS AT CONNECTION BETWEEN ANIMAL CRUELTY AND VIOLENCE (US ) By Katharhynn Heidelberg, Daily Press News Editor
Jan 17 - MONTROSE - By now, the link between animal cruelty and sensational crimes perpetrated by the Jeffrey Dahmers of this world is legendary. It's also real, and a problem that must be addressed - even if violence against animals might not lead a person to commit serial murder, it often escalates to violence against humans.
"You cannot extricate one (type of violence) from another," Diane Balkin, a Denver-area prosecutor, told those gathered for "The Link" training session at the Montrose Pavilion Monday. "This is a matter of public safety."
The training was jointly sponsored by the Dolphin House Child Advocacy Center and Montrose County Animal Services to highlight the link between animal cruelty, domestic violence and child abuse.
Animal abuse - defined under state and local statutes as physical/sexual abuse, endangerment, neglect, medical neglect, hoarding (having more animals than one can adequately care for) and abandonment - results in death for an estimated 62 percent of known animals victims each year nationwide. According to Balkin's statistics, 71 percent of these are domestic pets, followed by livestock (18 percent); wildlife (4 percent) and exotic animals (2 percent). More than half of known cases involve intentional abuse or torture and 43 percent involve neglect to the point of starvation or failure to provide care.
Beyond the harm to animals is harm to humans and attendant social ills, Balkin and fellow presenter Kay Dahlinger, chief probation officer in Aurora, stressed.
For instance, though not every person who abuses animals becomes a serial killer, Balkin said every known serial killer has a history of harming animals. A history of arson is also statistically common among violent offenders who abuse animals and animal abusers are five times as likely as others to commit violent crimes. Most high school shooters - though according to Balkin, the evidence for Columbine High School murderers Eric Klebold and Dylan Harris remains anecdotal - have had a history of hurting animals.
A survey of battered women revealed that 82 percent had to live with threats against family pets as a means of control or retaliation. In approximately 62 percent of these cases, at least one pet was killed.
Up to 70 percent of women do not leave their abusers because crisis shelters will not accept pets and they don't want to leave the animal at the offender's mercy. Dahlinger told conference attendees of a woman who did leave her abuser, only to return when he sent photos of her pet's ears being cut off.
In Montrose, Animal Control Officer Mike Duncan is willing to provide shelter to animals threatened by an abusive spouse until the victim can leave a crisis shelter. The Denver area has safe havens specifically for pet protection in such cases.
The correlations between animal cruelty and familial abuse are clear, Balkin reported. "Quite frankly, it is more rare to see one (form of abuse) in isolation," she said.
"It's power and control. Often, a pet is used as a tool to keep a child quiet. ...In more cases than you can imagine, there is threatening of an animal. That is a form of domestic violence."
Animal cruelty can be the result of a trickle-down effect of violence in the home, Balkin added. Children who see abuse or who are abused have been known to learn the behavior and in turn take out their frustrations on the one family member they can exert control over - the dog or cat.
There is also a sexual component to animal abuse, from bestiality, to taking "trophy" photos or videos that allow the offender to relive his or her crime.
Balkin told of "Samson," a Chow dog whose 17-year-old owner killed and sodomized him with a tree branch before leaving the dog's body in a public place with a makeshift cross and note that declared: "A work of the next king. It's pure art."
The boy had been sexually abused, but his mother apparently wrote off his history of fire-setting "because the fires were small."
Animal cruelty is also nothing new. It has been documented as far back as the 1700s, when woodcuts show a character who begins abusing dogs in the school yard, progresses to other crimes, and finally, is executed for murdering his lover. In the United States, a concerted effort to protect animals was begun in 1866 when Henry Burgher founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Colorado's animal cruelty statutes date back to 1889 and were so comprehensive that the language of today's statutes is almost identical.
The key difference: 2002's legislation making knowingly or intentionally killing or torturing an animal a felony - a change made following outcry over the matter of Westy, a cat set on fire and thrown from a vehicle in Westminster, Colo. (Westy, though horrifically injured, survived and was adopted).
It's frequently such cases that have turned the tide of public and legislative perception, Balkin said. In 1992, only seven states had felony animal cruelty statutes; by 2003, 41 states, including Colorado, had it on the books.
"The days of 'boys will be boys' or, 'it's just a dog or a stray cat' are over," Balkin said.
A Hotchkiss attendee said, however, that she still encounters that mindset. "Over and over again," she said she saw the attitude "that, 'They're just dogs.'"
In what often begins as misguided love of animals, others condemn pets to what Balkin called a fate worse death by hoarding or "collecting" them to the point that they overrun the home.
She pointed to a Cortez hoarding case in which a destitute elderly couple kept dozens of cats in a fifth-wheel trailer at a local campground. Graphic photos showed rescue members wading through feces and discarded food cans, along with the bones of starved or cannibalized cats, and kittens found dead in a freezer. Some 39 cats were recovered alive, though many had to be euthanized. The couple was declared unfit for pet ownership and prosecuted.
Balkin said it was important to follow awareness of animal cruelty with action. "I have impressed upon Denver that if there's any indication it's (abuse) intentional, go for state prosecution," she said. Penalties are tougher under state law than under most municipal codes. Conviction can also result in a mandatory evaluation and treatment.
"The earlier we intervene, the better off the community is and the (abusive) individual," Balkin said. "The way we break this cycle is education, intervention and collaboration."
One out-of-town attendee said, however, that prosecutors weren't always receptive. The unidentified woman said that despite the evidence she'd presented in her local jurisdiction, they had showed little interest and cited existing case overload.
Dahlinger acknowledged a collaborative effort is more difficult to achieve in smaller communities, but said it was worth the effort. In Aurora in 1999, for instance, her office realized the lack of communication between emergency and law enforcement agencies was affecting the way animal abuse cases were addressed. She worked to bring the agencies together and they formed a specific action plan as to agency response.
"Once you get collaboration going, you will be besieged with calls," Dahlinger said. "The reason you have to collaborate is, you have to arrest, you have to prosecute and you have to do something with the offender after. ...It isn't just a cat or a dog anymore. It's a victim."
Kay Alexander, director of Dolphin House, said she would like to see Montrose develop a specific action plan for addressing the problem, but that some agencies are already working toward that end. "We have a ways to go, but the time is appropriate because of the groundwork that's been laid," she said.
"We need to make sure we've got that community willingness to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
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