Friday, December 29, 2017

Dominican vegan fête

Vegan Caribbean Chef

Jamila Crawford Pécou at home in Atlanta.

“My mother is from the Dominican Republic, my father is from Florida, and I grew up in New York — all of which has informed and helped shape a diverse palate,” the Atlanta-based vegan chef Jamila Crawford Pécou tells LAIKA. Along with her vegan daughters Sigele and Tsehai, she is among the roster of dynamic women profiled in our Haven Issue. Crawford Pécou, who has cooked for the likes of Erykah Badu and Alicia Silverstone and runs the lifestyle brand Earthcandy, has long drawn on her heritage for inspiration. Much like her own eclectic background, the Dominican Republic and its diaspora is a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions. With her cooking, Crawford Pécou pays homage to her Caribbean roots; and by living a full life — immersed in travel, art and community — she leads by example. Here, the culinary maven talks to LAIKA about her heritage, what empowers her and her goals for the new year, and shares her recipes for two celebratory Dominican staples.

How would you describe Dominican cuisine and what makes it so well-suited to plant-based cooking?
Dominican cuisine is a combination of Spanish, indigenous Taino and African influences. A simple way to think of it is Caribbean food with a Spanish flair. It’s a crossroads of foods and flavors that have been passed down from my grandmothers by word-of-mouth or simply by observation. Though heavily animal-based, Dominican cuisine would not be complete without the likes of mangú (mashed plantain), maduros (fried ripe plantain), arroz con habichuela (rice and beans) and cassava bread. Just this past summer, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with my family and had no problems as a vegan. As veganism becomes more and more popular, many cultures have become, at the very least, vegan-friendly.

What would you say to someone who is resistant to veganism because they feel beholden to certain traditions?
A lot can be said about the dangers of “comfort zones”. Though they provide a sense of security and certainty, they also limit your ability to experience the world. Embracing veganism doesn’t have to mean you’re “losing something.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Good food is good food, it’s as simple as that. I try to make food that you will enjoy, so much so you’ll forget that it’s vegan!

How did you go about veganizing your family recipes?
Veganizing recipes can be as simple as substituting a soy, almond or coconut milk for cow’s milk, or taking extra effort to ferment a nut cheese with probiotics to improve the texture and flavor — so there is some trial and error. When I first became vegan over 20 years ago things were a bit more complicated because there weren’t as many vegan alternatives available in mainstream grocery stores. So I followed the “keep it simple” rule by starting with what I knew — recipes I learned from my mother and grandmother — and switched out things like dairy or meat with comparable vegan substitutes. Empanadas are a Dominican staple, traditionally prepared with ground beef, but with so many great soy-free, gluten-free options on the market now, I can now easily substitute in a ground meatless, et voila!

vegan black family laika magazine

Jamila (center) with daughters Sigele (left) and Tsehai, whom she raised vegan since birth. Photo by Valheria Rocha for LAIKA.

What makes you feel empowered as a woman in the male-dominated food industry, and how do you cultivate that strength and self-reliance in your daughters?
Empowerment comes from confidence, and I take pride in knowing that no one can do what I do quite like I can. Despite the culinary profession being dominated by men, women like me, my mother and grandmothers, have always provided, cared and nurtured through cooking. It is a legacy as old as humanity. For every male chef or culinary professional, there is a mom or grandmother who helped spark his love for cooking. I try always to lead by example where my daughters are concerned. My daughters have not only inspired the woman I’ve become, but through watching them actualize their own goals and aspirations, I find myself learning as much from them as they from me.

Can you share your insights on goal-setting and what you are envisioning for 2018?
This year I’ve taken photography classes to sharpen my skills, and it’s been very helpful in preparing for my 2018 goals, which include combining my love of food, travel and photography into my lifestyle brand in the form of books, television and social media content. Journaling and vision boards always help me focus on my goals and ideas. I’ve also recently incorporated more meditation into my daily routine, as a means of visualizing successes but also being deliberate and intentional in my actions. My focus in 2018 is “completion,” as I tend to have multiple ideas at once. My road to success will consist of small victories.

In our Issue 7 story “Family Ties,” you mention that your daughters’ paternal grandfather is vegan, which is so amazing! How did that change come about for him?
My daughters’ grandpa became vegan after the birth of my first daughter in the 1990s. Seeing as how their grandmother (his wife) was gung-ho about preparing meatless dishes for her new grandchildren, Papa, as they call him, decided to jump on the vegan bandwagon with them! His favorite is breakfast foods. He loves veggie sausage with stoneground yellow corn grits! At 68, after working for General Motors for over 45 years, he’s finally retired and has a vibrant, youthful spirit that’s inspired by the joy that his granddaughters bring him.


Vegan plantain tapas

Plantain Tapas. Photo by Jamila Crawford Pécou.


Plantain Tapas

These bite-sized tapas are inspired by my mother, born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Both are sweet, spicy and bold!

Makes about 2 dozen bites

2 very ripe plantains, peeled
Vegetable oil for frying
½ red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
½ orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced
½ cup red onion, sliced
1- 14 oz. can black beans (or 1 cup dried black beans prepared according to package directions)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon each sea salt, black pepper and ground cumin
1 bunch (or 1 10 oz. bag) fresh spinach, rinsed
1 dairy-free vegan sour cream
1 bunch scallion, sliced for garnish

Heat enough vegetable oil in a large non-stick pan to cover the bottom — about 1’ deep – over medium heat. Slice plantain into 1/2” thick diagonal slices. Fry lightly until golden brown on each side, using a spatula to flip over. Remove and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Saute the red and orange bell peppers and onion over medium-high heat in the oil remaining in the pan used for the plantain — about 5 minutes or until peppers and onion wilt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl or plate.

Finally, add spinach to the pan over medium heat with ¼ cup water and stir until bright green and wilted. Remove from heat.

In a medium saucepan, combine beans, garlic, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Season with salt, pepper and cumin. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

To assemble: On a serving plate, place plantain slices, then top with spinach, black beans, bell pepper medley, top with a dollop of sour cream and scallion for garnish. Serve immediately.


Vegan Caribbean drink

Vegan Coquito. Photo by Jamila Crawford Pécou.


My dairy-free Caribbean way of bringing in the New Year!

Serves 2-3

2 cups canned coconut milk
1 cup canned crema de coco (cream of coconut)
½ cup almond milk (or any nut milk)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground nutmeg
A pinch of ground cloves
(Optional: for the alcoholic version, add ½ cup of coconut rum)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, about 3 minutes. Serve over ice, with a light dusting of cinnamon on top! Keeps refrigerated for up to three days.

by Julie Gueraseva

Read more about Jamila and other inspiring women in LAIKA’s Issue Seven, and subscribe to our print or digital edition.

Actress Harley Quinn Smith LAIKA vegan magazine coverDear readers, it is with great joy that we bring you LAIKA Magazine’s 7th issue: the Haven Issue. It’s a shelter from turmoil where justice, equality and empathy are firmly upheld. The Haven issue invites you to create a world in which all are safe and valued. Gracing the cover is vegan actress and passionate animal advocate Harley Quinn Smith, who represents beautifully her generation’s optimism and determination. Inside, she shares a heartfelt open letter to Gen Z about the importance of allyship and the urgency of animal rights.

Harley Quinn Smith LAIKA Magazine vegan fashion

Through fearless journalism and unforgettable photography, the Haven Issue disrupts oppression. We underscore the connection between animal liberation and human liberation in stories like “United We Rise,” which features Aph Ko and Sunaura Taylor, among other brilliant voices from the movement. The stunning feature “She Matters” makes evident how essential asserting animals as individuals is to dismantling speciesism, and why this matters so much to feminism.

Rescued farm animals at sanctuaryIntersectional animal rights activism

Throughout the issue, we celebrate dynamic vegan women like Jenné Claiborne and Madelynn De La Rosa, who are broadening vibrant spaces of creativity and compassion. We demonstrate the beauty of standing up for the vulnerable in stories about kitten rescuer Hannah Shaw and rhino defender Damian Mander.

Sweet Potato Soul YouTuber Jenne Claiborne

The innocence of animals in the Haven Issue reminds us that on this earth, there is no need to dominate anyone. Life is at its most complete in peaceful co-existence. This is wondrously showcased in “The Last Place on Earth,” which tells the incredible story of how the First Nations communities of the Great Bear Rainforest protected their sacred land, its wildlife and our environment from a destructive pipeline.

Great Bear Rainforest

Every page of the Haven Issue is an artistic statement intended to uplift, energize and provoke discourse and action. With gorgeous imagery and resonating storytelling, LAIKA is an uncompromising source of independent media that provides you, our dear reader, with an immersive experience. Order your copy of the Seventh Issue of LAIKA or subscribe today.

On the Cover: Photography by Ryan Pfluger; creative direction by Julie Gueraseva; styling by Jessica Zanotti. “She Matters” photographed by Sammantha Fisher. “United We Rise” illustrated by Camila Rosa. “From the Soul” photographed by Paige Carter. “The Last Place on Earth” photographed by Jennifer MaHarry.







What the Health Vegan Documentary Interview

Filmmakers Keegan Kuhn (left) and Kip Andersen. Photo courtesy of “What the Health.”

In a pivotal scene in What the Health, the new documentary from the creators of Cowspiracy, filmmaker Kip Andersen visits families in Duplin County, North Carolina — an area known as the “hog capital of the world,” where confined pigs outnumber people 40 to 1. “My neighbor there died from cancer probably just last year. My nephew down the street, he’s got cancer. Not a smoker, not a drinker,” resident Rene Miller tells Andersen. A stone’s throw from her home pig waste is sprayed weekly into the open air. North Carolina’s pig CAFOs disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, reflecting a pattern “recognized as environmental racism,” a 2014 study found. As the camera pans to containers full of dead pigs left to decompose by the side of the road  ( to be later ground up and fed back to the living pigs) Miller says, “I don’t eat bacon, because I know where it comes from.”


WHAT THE HEALTH from AUM Films & Media


Animal agriculture is eroding human health, much in the same way as it is decimating communities like the one in Duplin County. A multitude of peer-reviewed studies have linked animal products to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. Dairy boosts the amount of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) in the blood, which promotes cancer cell growth. Processed meats and eggs are carcinogens , and the list goes on. Yet as we learn in What the Health, not only are leading health organizations dodging discussions on the role of plant-based foods in disease prevention, they are actively recommending the consumption of animal products to sick people.


What The Health Documentary Exposes Truth

A still from “What the Health” conveys the truth about carcinogenic properties in a typical bacon-and-eggs breakfast.

In their quest to find out why, Andersen and co-director Keegan Kuhn uncover how the US government, medical industry and health organizations are colluding with animal agriculture in putting the public’s health at risk for the sake of profit. The truth, as it turns out, is stranger than fiction: There’s government-funded marketing schemes to increase meat and cheese consumption; tens of millions of dollars are spent promoting dairy products to children in schools; the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society and the USDA’s dietary guidelines committee all take massive donations from the likes of Tyson, National Dairy Council, Oscar Meyer and KFC. And the meat and pharma lobby is so rich and powerful, they’re practically writing the laws.

It’s a harrowing reality, but What the Health is ultimately about self-empowerment. Through compelling interviews with renown physicians, world-class athletes (including LAIKA’s former cover star David Carter) and regular people who have reversed chronic diseases with a vegan diet, the film shows that the solution lies in our hands. “It begins with us now. We can’t rely on the government to do something about this,” Kip Andersen tells LAIKA. “We have to stop eating all horrific animals’ flesh and end it from the demand side up.” Here, Andersen shares with us more candid thoughts on the film’s process and the meaning of true health.


Did you face some of the same challenges in making What the Health as you did with Cowspiracy?
The biggest trouble is these organizations that you think would want to talk, similar to Cowspiracy — the environmental NGOs, the health groups — just don’t want to, because they know they are essentially failing the public in telling the truth about what’s causing a lot of these diseases that they are supposedly in the business of trying to help stop or prevent. Cowspiracy was considered groundbreaking because there had only been a couple of people at that point who had really dug deep into the environmental impacts [of animal agriculture]. The medical community is in the dark, but you have quite a few doctors now who are kind of renegades who had to find out [the truth] on their own — of course they didn’t learn about it in medical school. There are a lot more doctors being turned on to the secret of a vegan diet and [its impacts on] health, so it was easier to find more people to talk to in What the Health.

Did making the film make you feel hopeful, then, that widespread awareness in the medical field is imminent?
It’s a matter of time. It’s just been hidden for so long. And in this time we live in, you just can’t hide the truth anymore. I feel What the Health is a big catalyst for getting this into the mainstream. That just has to fall over into the medical field, because people are going to start telling their doctors they’ve watched this movie. In 2-3 years, [this information] is going to be common knowledge. You’re going to see this taught, and known in the medical community.

What compelled you to embark on an undertaking as massive as a feature-length documentary on a highly controversial topic?
It’s personal for me because of my family history. That was the real driving factor. My dad has had several heart blockages. My grandpa died of heart disease and diabetes. I have cancer on both sides, a lot of diabetes. My aunt is dying of diabetes. [My family] always warned me, “Kip, you’re going to have heart disease.” And then to find out, [the cause] is mostly our diet! A lot of this is to, honestly, show my family and friends that I love.

How did you approach making a fact-dense film like What the Health?
It’s so important to have a strong narrative that’s entertaining, so the audience can easily digest it and actually enjoy watching it. A lot of it was about going further into research, finding out about the connections, the money trail. We kept interviewing people, they told us to interview someone else, we looked into that. One thing led to another. Then we laid it out into as entertaining of a story as we could, because there is so much information, like you said. The goal is definitely to get this into the mainstream.

True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

People don’t typically consider the devastating impact that animal agriculture has on communities, like the one you visited near a pig farm in North Carolina. What was that experience like for you?
My Dad lives in North Carolina. I just feel so sad for the people who live anywhere near these awful places. There’s this whole bacon craze, and people think bacon is ‘cool.’ And it’s so not. In North Carolina, you really see the impact of those food choices. This state that is so beautiful is in such a state of urgency. Thousands of fish dead in the beautiful river. With What the Health, we wanted people to realize what true health is. A lot of people think of health as ‘paleo’, which is not [healthy] — you’re only thinking about yourself. True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

What do you think can be done in the more immediate future to help these communities?
Other than lawsuits, a big thing that will progress the truth coming out is processed meat being classified as a carcinogen by WHO (World Health Organization). When something is a classified carcinogen, it has to be labeled. If you get something from The Home Depot that has arsenic, it’s labeled. So it’s just a matter of time before bacon, processed meat, deli slices have a warning label on. And when that happens, it’s going to have a big impact.

At the screening in New York, you said that if 10 percent of population believe in a vegan world, then that world will come to be. How, in your opinion, can we cultivate a sense of optimism, so we can get to that tipping point faster?
If you tell yourself, “I’m not going to be successful,” it’s not going to happen. You could be doing the right things, going to school, getting your master’s. But if you say you’re not going to be successful, you just aren’t. You’re not going to be happy. It’s [the same way] in society and culture as a whole. It sounds kind of cliché, but thoughts become things. The law of attraction is so true. And you have to see it, you have to believe it. These new companies popping up, vegan restaurants, everyone putting billions of dollars into plant based foods, and on and on. And then it hits you — oh my god, this is happening at an exponential rate! This is happening and it’s happening now.  You don’t have to convince 100 percent of the people, you only have to convince around 10 percent, and the rest falls into place. That’s how every social [justice] movement is. You get that core 10 percent of people who really believe, and then it just happens. And it happens fast.


By Julie Gueraseva