Photo by Clara Polito

Writing a book is no small feat. Now imagine doing it while still in your teens. LAIKA’s one-time cover star Clara Polito has accomplished just that. Her first cookbook, Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone! was just published by powerHouse Books. It’s chock full of recipes for a dizzying array of creative desserts, with an entire chapter dedicated to frosting, plus sage business advice, a super handy guide to kitchen gear and egg substitutes, even a spread about why she’s vegan.

Photo by Logan White.

Polito is a serious pro with a heart of gold, but she’s no overnight sensation. She’s been running her LA-based company Clara Cakes since the age of 12, selling her creations at stores, restaurants and countless events across the city, as well as doing many brunch and dinner pop-ups. Her hard work has rightfully earned her treats a loyal following. The artist and skateboarder Ed Templeton says it best in his introduction to Polito’s cookbook, “Clara is the kind of girl that gives me hope for future generations. She didn’t wait for anything happen to her, she made it happen for herself.” Indeed.

Polito shares her S’mores Bar recipe with LAIKA, followed immediately by our Q&A with her.

Photo by Clara Polito

 

S’mores Bar
“I rarely ate traditional s’mores growing up because: 1) Marshmallows have gelatin, and 2) I’ve never been camping in my life. What I can remember of these sweet snacks is that the marshmallow always swallowed up all the other flavors. It was too sweet to be able to enjoy the perfect graham cracker and melty chocolate combo. These s’mores bars give you a balanced ratio of a lot of graham-cookie-bar crust, just enough chocolate chips, and a bit of melty marshmallow to tuck it in. I honestly don’t have much of a desire to ever go camping since I can just make these bars in my oven…”

Ingredients
1 cup crushed Nabisco plain graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 cup Dandies Marshmallows,* torn in half
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup v. butter, melted
1 tablespoon coconut vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
* Specialty ingredient, buy ahead

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and baking soda with a fork. The baking soda will dissolve. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder.

4. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

5. Add the vinegar and baking soda mixture to the butter and beat on high until the vinegar is fully incorporated, about two minutes.

6. Slowly add in the dry ingredients on medium speed and beat until it looks like cookie dough.

7. Reserve 1/4 of the dough and set aside, you’ll use this later for the topping. Press the remaining dough into the baking pan.

8. Sprinkle chocolate chips and marshmallows evenly onto the cookie dough layer.

9. Take the cookie dough you set aside and scatter grape-sized pieces over the marshmallows and chocolate chips.

10. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on cooling rack, serve warm.

 

Then and now. Clara covers our Summer ’13 issue (left); and is the author of her first cookbook four years later. Photos by Sylvia Elzafon and Logan White.

LAIKA: Veganism has become a lot less stigmatized in recent years. Do you even still feel the need to explain that you’re a “vegan” baker?

Clara Polito: It depends on who I’m talking to, or where I’m selling. Most of the time, I like to let my cooking speak for itself and win people over, and then tell them afterwards that it’s vegan which is always very much to their surprise! I think because being vegan is second nature to me, and such a part of my inner moral compass, I don’t have to work too hard on integrating it into my identity. Changing the way people eat is ultimately why I do what I do.

LAIKA: It’s a pretty crazy time, with this country’s government trying to escalate the oppression of both human and nonhuman animals. How does all this affect your craft and your sense of urgency to make the world better?

Clara Polito: I feel that being vegan is so important, especially now, as a way to express compassion. Our country is so accustomed to feeling disconnected to cruelty, corruption, etc. I think being vegan is the simplest, everyday activism you can do that touches on so many different issues beyond animal cruelty. I think it motivates me to make my recipes accessible. It makes me want to hold tight onto my craft and work harder.

LAIKA: The cookbook is so impressive. It must’ve been a ton of work to put together.

Clara Polito: Other than jotting down recipes, I had no prior cookbook experience. I think I needed someone to say, “Let’s do this, here’s what I need from you,” and from there it was a blast. The problem I run into is narrowing down recipe ideas, so coming up with new ones was fast. I took most of the dessert photos (Logan White took some as well), so there would be nights where I’d have four different cakes in my fridge calling my name.

LAIKA: The design of the book is also very eye-catching. Did you collaborate with the publisher and designer on it?

Clara Polito: My publisher was really open to my ideas for the book design. They’d send over different versions of possible designs and really listened to my feedback. The designer asked me to send over different tablecloths and aprons I use, and that’s where the flowers throughout the book come from. The handwritten old English was a tribute to the first business cards I made, and I love how modern it feels in the book. I love how much the book design represents myself and my baking.

LAIKA: And your best friend is a part of the book too, is that right?

Clara Polito: Sophia [Longo] is an extremely talented writer, and about a year ago she wrote a zine called Dessert Haikus. She wrote several different haikus having to do with desserts and then we put them together with photos of my baked goods. A couple months later when I started working on the book, it seemed like the perfect addition to it! She’s been a part of this adventure since I started baking, so it makes the book even more special and meaningful.

LAIKA: That’s so cool, and such a great example of young women’s camaraderie. So, people new to vegan baking are sometimes intimidated by the lack of eggs. What’s your take on that?

Clara Polito: My favorite egg substitutes are applesauce, coconut vinegar, and Mori-Nu silken tofu. I think texture and taste both taste more fresh when not using eggs. Isn’t it weird how non-vegan cake is technically chocolate eggs?!

LAIKA: Yep! What’s the top advice would you give young women your age who have a hobby or passion and yearn to turn into a career?

Clara Polito: I would say to embrace your passion and know your self-worth. People might offer you advice, which is nice, but you don’t have to take it. Do what you want to do.

LAIKA: Ok, final question — what’s inspiring you these days, and what are your must-eat vegan dishes around LA?

Clara Polito: Stella McCartney’s latest collection, both womenswear and menswear. I keep going back to the lookbook for inspiration! And specific dishes at particular places are: Organic Puff Pastry Tart with Market Green Salad at Elf Cafe (Elf is vegetarian, request this dish vegan); the Sweet Potato Falafel at Fala Bar; Spicy Sweet Potatoes at Azla; Masa Echo Park’s vegan Deep Dish Pizza (request vegan); the vegan pupusa combo that comes with fried plantains and black beans at Delmy’s Pupusas (request vegan); and the Jackfruit Taco with Chipotle Mayo and Tomatillo Salsa at Plant Food For People.

Clara Cakes’ latest pop-up dinner is in Detroit this weekend, and the NYC book launch is on March 23. Get to know this inspiring young woman even better in our Issue Two cover story. Pick up her stunning new cookbook online or at stores nationwide.

Interview by Julie Gueraseva

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Imagine What a Vegan World Would Look Like

Santuario Igualdad Interespecie vegan

David and Piopito at Santuario Igualdad Interespecie in Chile. Photo by María Gabriela Penela.

For thousands of years, the human species has relied on the exploitation of our fellow inhabitants on Earth – the nonhuman animals. It has long been our society’s status quo, the norm. There are over 7.5 billion people on the planet. Nearly eight times that many farm animals are killed by humans annually. But what if the use of animals was no longer part of the equation? “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night,” Edgar Allan Poe once wrote. In the spirit of November being World Vegan Month, we dream of a vegan world and just a few of the amazing changes we would have to look forward to were it to become a reality.

 

Billions of Animals Would No Longer Suffer

Over 56 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for human consumption each year. This figure doesn’t include marine animals, whose deaths are measured in tons. Together, approximately 150 billion animals’ lives are taken by the meat, dairy, egg and fish industries. Billions more are destroyed, injured and deprived of freedom by the fashion, entertainment, sports and animal testing industries.

The abolition of animal exploitation would bring an end to the cycle of breeding and raising animals for the sole purpose of killing them. No longer would nonhuman animals be subjected to agonizing (yet standard) practices like forcible insemination, intensive confinement, tail docking, dehorning, beak trimming, being auctioned off as babies, gassed, electrically stunned, processed while alive. Traumatic events such as separating children from their mothers within 24 hours of birth would no longer be routine.

Transport trucks full of animals stop criss-crossing nations; there would be no more live export by sea or air. Fish would no longer endure the despair and severe depression of farming.

Our relationship with animals would be completely transformed from one of dominance to one of co-existence and respect. Their depth of sentience and sophisticated cognitive abilities would be an undisputed fact, and our treatment of them would be universally acknowledged as having moral significance. We would understand the animal kingdom as never before; sharks would no longer be vilified, and farm animals would not be reduced to objects. Nonhuman animals would no longer have the status of commodities, but of conscious beings with the inherent right to be free from bodily harm.

 

Painting by vegan artist Hartmut Kiewert.

“Large Picnic” by Hartmut Kiewert, 2015.

 

Nature Would Heal

The toll of animal agriculture on our planet is brutal.  The meat and dairy industries have been identified as major accelerators of climate change: animal agriculture produces more greenhouses gasses than emissions from all forms of transportation combined. Today, close to 80 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation is the result of land clearing for cattle ranching.

The environmental damage of raising animals for human consumption far exceeds that of plants — with beef production, for example, having emissions per gram of protein that are about 250 times those of legumes. A study published in 2015 stated that “consumption of animal-sourced food products by humans is one of the most powerful negative forces affecting the conservation of terrestrial ecosystems and biological diversity.”

With animal agriculture made obsolete, global CO2 emissions would drop spectacularly. A world of herbivores would mean that our individual dietary greenhouse gas emissions would be cut in half.

In a vegan world with more available land, biofuels would replace half of the coal used worldwide, which is currently responsible for about 3,340 million tons of CO2e emissions annually.

Rainforests play a crucial role in absorbing our world’s carbon dioxide, converting it to oxygen. In a vegan society absent of animal agriculture, the Amazon — the “lungs of the planet,” as it’s known — would be restored to its healthy density. No longer would trees be burned to clear land, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Global warming would be de-escalated.

With humans no longer wearing the skins of nonhuman animals, our Earth would be spared the dumping of chromium-laced waste and other dangerous pollutants into water systems by the leather industry. Instead, our clothing, shoes and accessories would be made from materials like repurposed plastic waste and waste plant fibers.

 

Vegemoda bag made from pineapple leaves.

Vegemoda vegan bag made from pineapple leaves.

 

Our Water Would Be Protected

1 in 9 people around the world face water shortages. The water crisis is the #1 global risk based on impact to society, according to the World Economic Forum. A third of the world’s water consumption goes towards producing animal products. In a society without meat production, each former beef eater would save our planet nearly 130,000 gallons of water a year. The dairy industry’s catastrophic water footrpint (109 gallons to produce just one stick of butter) would be reversed in a vegan world.

Without industrial-scale animal exploitation, our water supplies would no longer be in danger of being polluted and made unsafe for human consumption by the frequent leakage of animal waste “lagoons” and fertilizer runoff. No longer would vast regions be affected by the disastrous manure spills of factory farms. Thanks to the end of the meat industry, communities would be safe from waterborne disease outbreaks caused by pathogens or having their drinking water poisoned by toxic pollutants like nitrogen.

With animal products obsolete, climate change would be abated; rising temperatures and the depletion of groundwater reserves due to drought would come to a standstill.

 

No More World Hunger

The bulk of industrially produced grain crops goes to confined animal feedlots instead of the 1 billion humans currently suffering from starvation and malnutrition. Over 50 percent of the corn grown globally, and 80 percent of soybeans, are consumed by animals farmed for their flesh. Yet it takes roughly 13 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Twenty-five times as much edible human food is being used to produce just one unit of meat.

In a vegan society, all field crop production that would have been used to raise animals would now meet the nutritional needs of the global population. It is estimated that by 2050, an additional 4 billion people could be fed with the annual energy value used to produce meat. Doing away with animal agriculture would free up land and resources, enabling communities to sustain themselves and making food sovereignty a reality. In the place of industrial-scale animal exploitation and slaughterhouses, there would be community farms and gardens, more schools and cultural institutions.

 

Species Extinction Would Be Halted

The systematic decades-long clearance of trees from the Amazon has condemned close to 40 species in the region to near extinction. And in the Southwest of the US, livestock grazing is the most widespread cause of wildlife endangerment. Not only do wild animals suffer from deforestation and climate change caused by the meat industry, but they are also killed en masse to protect its corporate interests. Keystone predators like California grizzly bears and Mexican gray wolves have been driven to extinction as a result of “predator control” programs.

Without the meat industry’s existence, more than 175 threatened or endangered species in the United States would be saved from peril. And according to Thiago Rangel, an ecologist at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil, forest regeneration in the Amazon would help to “gradually recover species richness, composition and vital ecosystems functions.”

 

Kat Von D and Bruno in LAIKA, Issue Six. Photo by Melissa Schwartz.

Kat Von D and Bruno, who was rescued as a calf after falling off a transport truck to the slaughterhouse. From LAIKA, Issue Six. Photo by Melissa Schwartz.

 

A More Empathetic Society

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote that “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.” Could a world without wars result from, or coincide with, society abolishing animal exploitation? It’s not that far-fetched of a notion. Empathy is the ability to identify with the emotions of another and it is often the first step toward taking compassionate action for someone. And empathy literally transforms our brain.

A 2015 Neuroimage study showed that higher empathy scores were “associated with greater gray matter density” and that people “who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational.” A rational state of mind is calmer and less inclined towards impulsive actions — or, in other words, aggressive and violent behavior.

 

Rescuer Marc Ching with Lucky and Jack, who were saved from the dog meat trade in South Korea and Thailand. From LAIKA Issue Six. Photographed by Jenna Schoenefeld.

Rescuer Marc Ching with Lucky and Jack, who were saved from the dog meat trade in South Korea and Thailand. From LAIKA Issue Six. Photographed by Jenna Schoenefeld.

One of the core aspects of a veganism is being empathetic to the pain of animals, in being able to relate to them and recognize their suffering. Compared to omnivores, functional MRI brain scans reveal a more powerful empathetic response to both human and animal suffering in the minds of vegetarians and vegans.

The more we put empathy into practice, the more empathetic we become. It is nearly impossible to imagine wars still taking place once the last slaughterhouse shutters. In changing our relationship with animals, we could change our relationship with one another and pave the way to the world peace that we all long for.

 

Let’s Make It a Reality

It’s up to us to make the dream real — through leading by example, mobilizing our communities, becoming engaged with the world around us, participating in grassroots activism. The task is more urgent than ever, particularly since our President-elect is a climate change denier who is rounding up an administration similarly hostile to the protection of animals and the environment. When relying on the government to help us is no longer an option, we still have control over whether or not we choose to participate in industries and practices that are destroying our planet and its inhabitants. And that is incredibly empowering. We already know that a benevolent existence is possible — one need only flip through the pages of LAIKA to see how abundant, vibrant and interesting a vegan life is. It is us, the masses, who hold the key to transforming our society. Our potential to cultivate positive change is limitless, and the time to begin is now.

Posted by Julie Gueraseva

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Regina, a Chicken Whose Life Mattered

Kat Von D

LAIKA’s issue 6 featuring Regina and Kat Von D, photographed by Melissa Schwartz.

There was no question that Regina hen was destined to be a LAIKA cover star. From the moment Kat Von D first held the cuddly chicken at our cover shoot, it was magic.

Everyone on set at Farm Sanctuary in Acton, CA, where Regina resided, was smitten by the charming, curious, friendly and lovable girl. Not only did she fit right in during the shoot, she became the center of attention. Even her vibrant comb matched the color of Kat’s lipstick.

By sharing the cover of our vegan magazine with Kat, and with her name clearly printed, Regina was shown as an individual and a symbol of freedom for all animals.

Vegan Kat Von D Chicken Laika Magazine

When Kat met Regina at our cover shoot—magic. Photos by Melissa Schwartz.

But suddenly and sadly, Regina is no longer with us. Like so many hens, she suffered from reproductive issues and had a severely infected uterus. Although the surgery to remove it was successful, she passed away the night after it in late July. Regina was a rescue from a family’s backyard chicken flock  – a setting that many believe to be more “humane” than the conditions faced by chickens on factory farms.

In a letter to Regina’s loving sponsors, Farm Sanctuary explained that “whenever an animal is commodified, their individual needs and interests are overlooked in favor of securing profits.” Chickens who are used for eggs frequently develop reproductive issues due to overproduction. It’s unimaginable for Regina to experience cruelty, yet the U.S. alone kills 23 million chickens every single day. In fact, they are the most abused land animal on the planet. But if given a chance to express themselves, each one will show a personality that is uniquely their own,  just like Regina’s.

Following is a poignant tribute from one of the “humanimals” that knew Regina best — Danielle Petrovich, facilities coordinator at Farm Sanctuary’s Acton shelter:

“Regina was my friend. It may sound strange or foreign to most people who have never had the opportunity to get to know a chicken. She was special, though. Even among her ‘rescue peers,’ she stood out. Or, more accurately, she stood up, ran over, and made sure you knew she was there. If we did ‘superlatives’ for the flock (like in your high school yearbook) Regina would have won these hands down. ‘Cutest.’ She was freaking adorable with the black and white feather motif and the bright red comb! Regina means ‘queen’ [in Latin], and her unique ‘rose comb’ crowned her little face as though it was designed on commission. ‘Friendliest.’ When greeting humanimal friends, new and old, she was uninhibited by self-consciousness or fear. Everyone she met was immediately treated to her boundless antics: Pecking lightly at your shoe, elbow, jewelry, pant leg, belt, shirt button or lower back tattoo (should you be crouched down facing away from her, and have your shirt ride up a bit.)

14087256_10209145772094371_1461700966_o

Regina in the foreground during our shoot, curiously examining the camera, with Danielle behind her.

She made an excellent ambassador for her species.

“A familiar lap was a favorite place for a nap and a pet. Regina often happily jumped right up and made herself cozy. ‘Most likely to Cheer You Up’ and ‘Most Squawky’ would undoubtedly go to her as well. When introducing her to people, I would often compare her to a stranger in the market who peers into your cart, strikes up a conversation about an item you’ve got in there and still has you chatting a half hour later. Initially in that scenario we’d be taken aback, yet by the end wanting to exchange numbers and meet up for a soy chai. Regina did that to people. You only needed to meet her once to feel as though you knew her. Perhaps because she made us feel, through her trust and her unequivocal gush of attention, as though she knew us. She sought us out. She truly loved people. For this reason, she made an excellent ambassador for her species. For the multitudes of people who will never have the pleasure of meeting her, I am gravely saddened. Mostly though, I just miss my friend.”

Regina, whose light shone bright, will live on forever on the cover of LAIKA, reminding that chickens are individuals whose lives matter. In honor of her memory, and all animals, we encourage you to go vegan.

Posted by Julie Gueraseva

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