Monday, April 22, 2013

DO-GOODERS: BE GOOD TO YOU

WE’RE ALL WORKING HARD on a regular basis. Many of us are focusing on ways to make the world a juicier and all around better place to live in, which is a commendable quest. Go ahead and take a moment to give yourself a mental high-five. Did that feel good? (We thought so). Sometimes, us self proclaimed do-gooders spend so much time focusing on outside situations, we forget to be compassionate to ourselves along the way. And neglecting ourselves for too long can lead to a pesky little thing called burnout. “Burnout is a well-recognized psychological state in which exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation occurs, usually as a result of prolonged stress,” Stacy De-Lin, MD— a Family Medicine Physician in NYC, and a vegan and animal rights activist— recently told us. “Activists can be particularly prone to burnout,” she added. Thankfully, according to Dr. De-Lin, there is an amazingly simple strategy to avoid this not-so-fun state: give yourself ample time to rest. Do-gooders of the world, you have our permission to play hookey from work for a few hours and experience the beautiful sights and scents of the Season! It’s Cherry Blossom Season at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens! Go!

There’s actually some serious science behind smelling nice things, it turns out. “Interpretation of scent in your environment is processed by the brain’s limbic system, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory, emotion, behavior, and motivation. No other sensory system has this type of link with the neural areas of emotion and associative learning,” Dr. De-Lin explained. Whoa, mind blown. If you can’t get to a park or a Botanical Gardens fast enough, we recommend visiting your local (preferably organic) florist and treating yourself to a fragrant bouquet of Spring blooms. Some of our faves in the NYC area are Gardenia Organics and 2H Flowers in Manhattan, and GRDN BKYLN in Brooklyn.

Jenny Brown, co-founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, knows a thing or two about working a lot (14 hour days, to be exact!). In addition to running the sanctuary, she is also a published author, and regularly speaks around the country. Her tip for staying jovial and energetic? “I try to get to yoga classes and meditate when I’m able to. I try to take a few extra days off to visit friends when I’m traveling for speaking engagements. Also having days where I just spend time with the animals at the sanctuary reminds me why I do what I do everyday,” she told us during a recent conversation. As activists, being regularly exposed to the harsh realities of the animal exploitation industries can wear heavy on our hearts. Interacting with animals in a place where they are safe becomes essential. While the positive effects of being around animals are well-documented (reduced stress and anxiety, and reduced blood pressure are just some of the benefits), visits to sanctuaries are particularly relevant to animal advocates. “Many tell us that a visit here renews their activism and dedication to justice for farmed animals. Sanctuaries have a unique opportunity to bring people together with the animals they are fighting for,” Jenny explained. She also added that many have described visits as helpful in combating feelings of alienation. “The comfort of community can be the best medicine,” she said. So, once again, do-gooders: you have our permission to take the day off and hurry on over to your nearest animal haven. Spring is here, and sanctuaries are officially open to visitors!

And speaking of community, “Maintaining a healthy social life and circle of friends is important,” activist John Oberg recently told us. John is an outreach coordinator for Vegan Outreach, and has distributed over 340,000 pamphlets at over 200 universities in the past 3 and a half years— a testament to his tireless work ethic. As someone who has dedicated his life to advocating for animals, he emphasizes that “understanding that this is long-term work is essential.” And we cannot create lasting change without preserving ourselves in the process. “Sleeping, eating right, and exercise are important for both your ability to continue this work long-term and remaining a good example of a healthy vegan. We should try our best to be happy, healthy, and normal to create optimal influence,” John explained. Finding the balance in how much violent imagery you expose yourself to in order to educate others is another thing to be mindful of. “Watching every latest animal abuse investigation can throw you into a state of deep depression that no amount of So Delicious ice cream can dig you out of,” he cautioned. John underscored that “a sustainable pace is key.” These sentiments are also echoed by Dr. Stacy De-Lin, who recommends “setting short-term goals” when challenges may feel seem overwhelming.

Another strategy Dr. De-Lin recommends? Laughter. “Laughter is not only universal in that it is found across all human languages, but we know many animals engage in a form of laughter too, from gorillas to rats,” she said. Dr. Stacy dropping science once again: “Laughter is linked most strongly with the part of the brain that produces endorphins, the prefrontal cortex. And it decreases levels of the hormones responsible for activation of the “fight or flight” nervous system.” Ok, do-gooder, the experts have spoken: being social, eating good food, and laughing— are key. A way to combine all three? Glad you asked! If you’re a New Yorker, check out the free comedy night at Brooklyn’s Latin vegan joint The V-Spot, held on the first Thursday night of every month. Hilarious comedians entertain, while you nosh on a big plate of kale tostadas— perfect. The next show is on May 2nd at 9pm. (kitchen closes at 9.30, so be sure to get there early!)

If The V-Spot is not in your vicinity, check out listings for comedy shows at other fun venues in your city (like the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, that has several locations in NYC and LA). You can also score major laughs at home, listening to vegan comedian extraordinairre Myq Kaplan’s rad podcast Hang Out With Me, while making yourself a nourishing meal with ingredients that do wonders for that priceless brain of yours. “Omega-3 fatty acids, found in flax seed oil, sea vegetables and algae, have been shown in multiple studies to help protect against depression,” Dr. De-Lin explained. According to Dr. De-Lin, foods like tofu and tempeh have been shown to improve cognitive function, and sufficient carb intake improves mood. Sources of healthy carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans.

Although we have a lot on our plates, we can make simple, achievable improvements in our lives. Even something as basic as deep breathing exercises during a busy day can help drive out the threat of burnout. “Avoiding burnout in a world rampant with animal suffering is absolutely vital,” John Oberg reminded us. “Animal Liberation isn’t coming overnight, so we need to keep the pressure building and ball moving forward.”

And for this, we need to keep our strength and resilience intact. Remembering to be good to ourselves unlocks our potential to do as much good as possible for animals, our friends, and our Planet. And that’s a whole world of good.

Postscript: This story became personal for me, when I had to recognize the fact that I myself was nearing burnout, realizing it was imperative that I had to take the very advice we are offering to our readers here. Last Friday, I made
the decision to spend the day at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, leaving an office full of urgent work behind. The experience provided indispensable rest and renewal. Being kind to ourselves sometimes requires courage, and maybe even a little calculated risk. But the payoff is always worth it.  — Julie Gueraseva

Writing for this story also contributed by Zoe Eisenberg. Read more of her work on her blog Sexy Tofu, as well as xoJane and I Eat Grass.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens photo courtesy of Shi Xuan Huang. Sanctuary photos courtesy of Jenny Brown/WFAS. Tostadas photo courtesy of The V-Spot.
Photo research assistance by Crystal Pang.

MEN’S FOOTWEAR TOOK A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION during Fashion Week, thanks to the outstanding footwear collection from Brave GentleMan. Worn by the models during VAUTE’s Autumn/Winter ‘13 Presentation, the shoes were immediately eye-catching, tying each look together crisply. There was an impressive range of boots, oxfords and saddle shoes in sophisticated hues, each offering a new take on classic silhouettes. Demonstrating a high degree of craftsmanship, design and versatility, the line of footwear also gave men of style something to feel good about: the collection was entirely vegan, sustainable and made under fair labor conditions. If shoes make the man, these undoubtedly would make you an even better one. “Ecologically, they are far superior to traditional leather in that they were not tanned in a chemical bath, they are naturally water-resistant, and they are not products of the livestock industry which has a staggering effect on water resources, topsoil erosion, GHG emissions, and grain and petrol consumption,” Joshua Katcher, the designer behind the line, explained to us when we visited him in his studio last week.

Brave GentleMan during the VAUTE NYFW presentation

The line is a collaboration with another vegan brand of footwear, Novacas, and is constructed in Portugal from Italian textiles. One of our favorite styles from Fashion Week was the Defender (seen above)— a twelve-eyelet bulcher-style boot. The bulcher were introduced by the Prussian General von Blücher, Joshua explained to us, and are “known for having side pieces that lap over the front and vamp,” he added. The upper is a biodegradable PU microfiber. It is remarkably indistinguishable from leather in look and feel. And this is where the Italian craftsmanship element comes into play. The material is made up of “millions of tiny fibers that, like an animal’s skin, feel supple and can handle wear and tear very well,” Joshua told us. This level of detail results in shoes that are breathable, that break-in naturally, that don’t crack, and are resilient. Seeing the gorgeous line within the context of a vegan fashion show was undoubtedly one of the week’s highlights for us.

Joshua makes some final adjustments on set (left); the Covert in Navy (right)

A man with great taste in shoes obviously needs a great suit. Recognizing the need, Joshua recently created his very first line of Brave GentleMan custom men’s suits and tuxedos. We got to take a look at the impeccably-constructed line at Joshua’s studio during Fashion Week and discovered fabrics that are truly pushing the boundaries of innovation, and are evocative of the thrilling developments happening in veganism today. The Covert, for example- the line’s most popular style- is a three-piece, notch lapel, single button suit. “This means that there is a waistcoat with an adjustable button belt, a single button jacket with a single rear vent, functional and flat-front slacks, that the lapel features a notch,” Joshua explained to us. Designed in New York City, they are made in Italy by a small family-owned factory. To source sustainable textiles, Joshua partnered with the Italian organization CLASS. “I use their own collaborative line of textiles made from recycled-PET, mostly from post-consumer water and soda bottles. These materials are used by many high-end European mills to create very luxe and sustainable, recycled materials,” he told us. Impressing us further, he told us that the buttons are Tagua Nut (or “Corozo”), which fall from trees, and are gathered. They are known as “vegetable ivory” because of their luxurious feel, color and strength. The collar backing, shoulder pads, lining, full-canvass sew-in interfacing and sleeve headers are all made from recycled poly from Japan in closed-loop factories. As Joshua explained, “The factory does not allow any emissions or contaminants to leave the facility-they are cycled back in to the production process or they are treated and neutralized.”

Joshua— a long-time vegan— has been utilizing fashion as a vital extension of his work as an activist for a number of years. “The fashion industrial complex not only affects millions of people’s livelihoods globally and is tied to some of the worst environmental problems like livestock (sheep, cows, pigs), but it is one of the most powerful forms of creating values and meaning based on aesthetics and expressing personal identity,” he told us. “Fashion is so culturally relevant and has global implications on issues of humans rights, animal rights, and the environment,” he added. With wool production being just one example of an environmentally detrimental practice, not to mention cruel— companies like Brave GentleMan are leading the way towards making these practices obsolete. Joshua is currently designing his Fall ‘13 and Spring ‘14 collections, and we have a hopeful hunch that a Fashion Week presentation is in his very near future.

photo by Joel Barhamand for Laika

We also got to check out Charlotte Ronson’s Autumn/Winter 2013 Collection. Showing 60’s Mod influences, the collection boldly integrated spring-time floral patterns into a fall wardrobe. There were flirty halter dresses and A-line minis in lively emerald greens, punctuated by blacks; touches of peek-a-boo mesh panels; eclectic color-blocking and unexpected cutouts.

While we must make clear that Charlotte’s collection is not all vegan, we are reporting on it here because she has publicly asserted herself as a fur-free designer. During a time when some designers have taken to accepting bribes veiled as sponsorships from a fur industry desperate for market share, Charlotte has remained steadfast in rejecting the usage of fur in any of her garments. Indeed, even just by virtue of excluding fur, she is setting a heart-felt example for her peers. “It’s something I can do, and it’s something that could make a difference,” she told us, when we spoke to her after the show.

Charlotte during and after the show. Photos by Joel Barhamand

She recalled being invited to the offices of the Humane Society a few years ago, where during a meeting she saw videos about the harsh realities of the fur trade. She was deeply affected. “You just can’t go back,” she said. She further explained that fur as a fabric simply doesn’t appeal to her, and is not only “not my style,” as she put it— but that she doesn’t wear it or use it in her collections for compassionate reasons. “I’m against any kind of animal cruelty, and I love my little dog,” she told us.

photos by Joel Barhamand

Another highlight during Fashion Week was seeing cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics being used. Simcha Whitehill, aka Miss Pop (a nail artist with a cruelty-free kit, and a contributor at Laika), created several stunning nail designs for the runways, partnering exclusively with the outspokenly cruelty-free and vegan Color Club nail lacquer. For Charlotte Ronson, she created the “Picture Frame” look (seen above). “To match all the hues in the collection we did five permutations of the look: lipstick red and eggplant, hunter green and a bright purple, two shades of grey, sand and a deep ocean blue, and black and white,” Simcha told us. The look above can be easily recreated at home, using Color Club’s Where’s the Soiree and French Tip shades. Start by applying one coat of the darker shade of polish, and then imagine your nail is just a teensy bit smaller and polish your nail using the lighter color. “This should leave a thin U shape of the darker color framing your nail,” Simcha explained. Brush on a thin French tip with the lighter shade to complete the nail frame.

photo by Joel Barhamand

Another design from Simcha was this nature-inspired look, which used a custom color she created with Color Club called Raw Amber. The look integrated the natural nail peeking through as part of the design. And the purpose of the geometric shape was to evoke “an element of mystery- the openness of the natural nail shrouded in amber and black,” Simcha explained.

 

photo by Julie Gueraseva

That week, we also made a trip to mid-town Manhattan to check out the footwear industry’s version of Fashion Week— the New York Shoe Expo, a major trade show from the Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFaNY). There, we discovered an exciting new vegan collection from Krže Studio. The collection was in large part inspired by founder and designer Leila Kerze’s home base of Los Angeles. “There is a play between art and industry, motorcycle culture and the canyons and beaches it races through. Though the collection exudes an aggressive and rugged strength, it finishes in elegance,” Leila explained to us. Many of the designs have aerodynamic silhouettes, with lacing and chain detailing. The collection shown in NYC is expected to hit retail outlets in July or August of 2013.

photo by Julie Gueraseva

While compassion was Leila’s primary motivation for starting Krže Studio (“I do not believe it is possible to create something truly beautiful if its origins are from suffering, cruelty, and victimization,” she told us), she quickly discovered that many of the vegan materials on the market not only rivaled the look of leather, but were actually superior in performance and function. The lining of her shoes, for example, utilizes a breathable, anti-bacterial and porous material that is approved by the American Podiatry Association. “This means that both a tall winter boot and a strappy spring sandal can be worn without becoming uncomfortable because of bacteria,” Leila explained. With many vegan leathers being plastic-based and recyclable, designers now have an opportunity “to adhere to a cradle to cradle philosophy and make a renewable and sustainable luxury product,” she added.

Indeed, what we saw during Fashion Week is that not only is it possible to create cohesive and imaginative clothing and footwear without the use of animal fibers— but one can create a collection that in fact surpasses conventional materials in style and function. So perhaps today’s designers should ask themselves the question, Am I moving forward with the currents of change and progress, or swimming against them, regressing further into stagnant practices? If fashion is about innovation and rebellion, it seems evident that humankind has in fact fully exhausted all the possible ways to use animal skins. It is time we give some serious thought to the price animals pay for our vanity, and carefully examine other viable solutions. For a designer like Joshua Katcher— who is already successfully implementing these solutions, you can’t put a price on compassion. “No one complains that furs or leathers are “too expensive”, but most designers are desperate to use that visual currency. But if you asked them to pay workers fairly or invest in new textile technologies that remove animals from the production model, suddenly it’s “too expensive.” Deciding to work towards an ethical fashion system doesn’t have to be an aesthetic choice. If you’re a good designer, you should be able to make brilliant work with whatever materials and production methodologies are available,” he says. We look forward to the day when being a good designer becomes universally synonymous with being an ethical and compassionate one. And we feel confident that this day will come.

Written by Julie Gueraseva

Brave GentleMan photographs courtesy of Joshua Katcher, Gregory Vaughan and Anthony Two Moons (respectively).

 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

IN GOOD TASTE: INNOVATION AT RESTAURARE

A RECENT VISIT TO TULUM, MEXICO uncovered the Mexican restaurant of our dreams. So discretely tucked away off the main road that even a local taxi driver had difficulty finding it, the beautifully-designed open air Restaurare felt like an oasis of creative vegan Mexican food. It’s no wonder that the restaurant’s name is inspired by the philosophy of restoring the spirit. Chef Karla Madrazo’s and her partner Roberto Mattocks’s vision for a restaurant was one with as little environmental impact as possible, and one that respected animals and humans. “The goal is to give vegetarians, vegan or anybody, the chance to know and taste delicious Mexican food, but consciously and happily,” explains Karla. The Chef’s talents are evidenced in thoughtful dishes that combine tradition and innovation—a result of inheriting her mother’s cooking secrets and a modern education at culinary school. “I grew up with a mother so good at cooking Mexican food that I just have it in my cells,” Karla tells us.

And here is where she shares a little history lesson… Prior to the 18th century, restaurants didn’t exist— only taverns where travelers could get soup, a drink, and sometimes a place to stay for the night. In 1765, a man named Dossier Boulanger hung a sign outside of his Paris tavern that read in Latin: “Come to me, men of tired stomachs, I will restore you.” At Restaurare, this sentiment is executed to perfection. We left our dinner full, energized and warmed by Karla’s and Roberto’s genuine affability. As we fantasize about them opening up a second location in New York City, please enjoy these recipes directly from the Chef:

TACOS PIBIL

Pibil soy ‘meat’
1 piece bitter orange
½ cup water
1 tbsp recado rojo
1 tbsp vegetable seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 cup texturized soy

Mix everything together in a pot and put on high heat. When it is boiling add the texturized soy, integrate really well with a spoon and turn off the heat.

Tip: If you can’t find ‘recado rojo,’ try finding achiote— a red paste that mayans used to put on their faces during rituals. You can mix it with dry oregano, onion, garlic, black pepper and salt and make your own recado rojo!

Xnipek
1 piece red onion
2 pieces lime
1 piece habanero chili
1 tsp salt
1 pinch black pepper

Cut the red onion into small cubes or ‘brunoise’, add the juice from limes salt and pepper. Cut the habanero chili really small and put it in. At the beginning it will be spicy but with time you’ll start to feel it is less spicy. Correct seasoning if needed.

Black bean spread
1 pound black beans
¼ piece white onion
1-2 cloves  garlic
salt to taste

Put everything in a pressure pot and cook as you usually do. I like to leave the water for beans a little bit salty so when cooked it’s flavorful (the water has to taste with a hint of saltiness). When they’re cooked, process the beans with some of the cooking liquid and the spread is ready!

Tip: if you want the spread even more flavorful try sautéing white onion and garlic (chopped), add the processed beans and correct seasoning.

Tacos
3 pieces handmade tortillas
3 tbsp black beans spread
6 tbsp pibil soy ‘meat’
¼ piece iceberg lettuce or any local (finely sliced)
3 tbsp alfalfa sprouts
3 tsp xnipek

Plate the tacos as you prefer, or you can follow Restaurare’s presentation:

To start, spread a tablespoon of the black beans on the tortilla, then 2 tablespoons of the pibil soy. Top it with lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and xnipek on top. Try keeping everything in the middle so as you’re plating it looks neater, and serve.

COCONUT CHIA SALAD

Vinaigrette
2 pieces lime
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
5 tbsp organic coconut oil
1 tsp chia seeds

Salad
1/3 piece romaine lettuce (or the local one you prefer the most!)
¼ piece cucumber
1 piece tomato (wedges)
½ piece carrot (sliced)
1/8 piece red onion (sliced)
Sunflower or pea sprouts, preferred amount (or any available sprout)

How to get there:
The vinaigrette is really easy: we’re making an emulsion from the acidity of the lime and the oil from coconut. Mix the lime juice with the Dijon mustard, chia seeds, salt and pepper (still you will have to correct seasoning at the end, depending on the ingredients). Whisk really well before adding the oil until you see it starts to make a few bubbles. Then, start adding the coconut oil slowly so it can integrate while you keep whisking. Ingredients change from one place to another so maybe you’ll need more lime or more coconut oil but the taste has to be a little bit salty so when mixed with the salad it is still flavorful.

Try to get a crispy cucumber, a sweet tomato, a powerful red onion and limes with a lot of juice.
Choose the ingredients you like the most for the salad, we chose these because they’re local, fresh and tasty, toss them with your homemade vinaigrette and enjoy!

Tip: you can try other vinaigrettes with the same principle of getting and acidic ingredient and any type of oil.

 

Learn more about the restaurant at:
Restaurare

Photographs courtesy of Restaurare