Vegan Harvest: A Feastly Dinner Party

by Gena on October 22, 2012

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A week or so ago, a longtime local reader named Beth (whose name I recognized right away from comments) emailed me to ask whether I’d like to attend a vegan dinner party she was hosting for Feastly. Feastly is an organization that connects passionate home cooks with local diners who share their tastes. Members can plan meals, post the theme and menu online, and then other members of the site can sign up. The costs stay incredibly reasonable (especially for fine, multi-course meals), and strangers get to know each other over really delicious food. I think it’s a great idea, and I’d consider hosting if I had a little more space myself!

Beth’s menu was titled “vegan harvest,” and she flattered me to death when she told me that many of the recipes were inspired by things she’d seen on Choosing Raw. I must say that all of the food she served seemed absolutely original to me, but of course there was some cashew cheese, almond cream, and lots of root veggies involved—all CR favorites! I told Beth I’d be delighted to attend, so long as she didn’t mind my slipping out at some reasonable hour to return to studying.

And so it was that, on Saturday, I made my way over to Beth’s and met a really interesting and dynamic group of local diners. Not surprisingly, common interests at the table included health and wellness, yoga, sustainable agriculture, and community gardening. There were eight of us in total, which is a great number for a dinner party. As we connected, Beth prepped our dinner with all the ease of a seasoned hostess. I’ve done quite a bit of entertaining, but I never manage to pull it off with that kind of grace!

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Our first course was a seasonal salad of haricots verts, lettuces, figs, nuts, fennel, and a light vinaigrette.

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A really ingenious combination of flavors and textures. It was particularly appropriate, given my fig mania these days (and a much nicer way to feature the flavor of figs independently than putting them into a smoothie).

Our second course was a curried red lentil and pumpkin soup, topped with almond, hemp, and sage cream and pumpkin seeds, as well as a dollop of brown rice:

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Absolutely delicious! I really loved the sage cream, which, when swirled into the hot soup, lent a delicate, subtle flavor to the whole dish. Really lovely.

As we ate, we talked about topics ranging from Ayurveda to mini kiwis to local farmers’ markets to social media and the value of hugging. I was asked how I came to be vegan (you know that story!) and also why I advocate a vegan lifestyle to others. No matter how comfortable I am writing about vegan ethics on CR, I confess that, in social settings, I’m still more comfortable sharing my veganism by way of personal testimony, rather than polemic. That said, I’m learning that part of being an activist is finding respectful ways to make a case for veganism, even when one isn’t in the majority (which I wasn’t on this evening: though everyone at the dinner enjoyed or was curious about vegan food, there were only three vegans present, me and my hostess included). I started by saying that I don’t agree with putting animals in captivity or eating them when it isn’t necessary for us to do so. When someone quickly countered that we’ve historically always eaten meat, I rejoined that the fact that something is traditional or commonplace doesn’t make it right, especially given that in this day and age, we—everyone at that table, at least—have access to B-12 supplements and an abundance of plant-based food. We can be both healthy and satisfied without animal foods or products.

One of the other guests said that it may not be healthy for some people (she meant this, I think, in the sense of bio-individualized nutrition). I pointed out that, technically speaking, most people can be healthy with a fully balanced vegan diet and vitamin B-12; oftentimes, when veganism isn’t working for someone, some adjustments in diet will yield wonderful and lasting results. I always like to mention that my friend Brendan, now a vegan spokesperson, was chronically hungry and low on energy when he first went vegan. After studying nutrition diligently, experimenting with what worked for him, and maximizing his micronutrient intake, he found his best health ever on a vegan diet. So my point is not to minimize the idea that nutrition and diet vary from person to person, and that we all need to experiment and find what works for our bodies—I couldn’t agree more!—but rather to say that there are ways to experiment within the vegan paradigm if it’s not working. Some will do better with more grains and legumes, others with more fats, others still with more protein, and so on. Balance looks different for everyone, even among vegans. It’s worth doing such experimentation before deciding that veganism doesn’t work for you—especially when the stakes are so high for animals.

In any case, it was a really good, interesting conversation between eaters who came from all different philosophical places. I appreciated the candid, respectful, and open sharing of ideas.

And then came our wonderful entrée, which I caught on camera mid-prep:

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It was a stack of acorn squash, sauteed spinach, yam, and cashew cheese. In other words, it was heaven.

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It was exactly the kind of entrée I might make on my own, down to the last detail. Well, almost the last detail: I always claim to hate radishes, but Beth’s homemade pickled radishes proved me wrong! Really tasty.

And finally, out came a perfect dessert trio with which to end our meal. Maple ice cream (with a macadamia nut base), a vegan biscotti that tasted a lot like caramel to me, and a raw brownie that was enhanced with coconut. Good gracious—not one scrumptious treat, but three!

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I loved all of the desserts, but I may have swooned a little when I tried the ice cream (and that is saying a lot, because I’m more of a cookie person than ice cream person). It was so delicious—like creamy, cool maple sugar candy.

In all, I couldn’t have left the meal feeling more satisfied or impressed. Beth’s a fantastic cook, and I look forward to taking a lot of inspiration from this dinner and re-creating some of her recipes at home! For now, I’m just grateful that she included me in the evening, grateful to Feastly for the opportunity, and also grateful to my fellow guests for their company.

Ironically, Beth made brownies for dessert, and I happened to bring her a batch of frosted, high-raw raw brownies as a gift. So we did a raw brownie swap. Tomorrow, I will share both the brownie and the icing with you—this one is a keeper!

xo

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

hannah October 22, 2012 at 7:36 pm

just wow!
could you persuade her to share that sage cream recipe you think?
hope your studies are going well! xx

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Beth October 22, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Hi Hannah,

I don’t have a recipe for this, but if I remember correctly, I blended raw almonds and hemp seeds with water in a high-powered blender until it formed a thin cream, then added a few fresh sage leaves. I put it in a (clean) used container of agave nectar so I can squeeze it into thin streams over warm, creamy soups. It’s a total delight!

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hannah October 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Mmmmm thanks! Was it equal parts almonds and hemp?

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Lw October 22, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Seconded! And the red lentil pumpkin soup as well!

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Beth October 22, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Veggie broth, baked fresh pumpkin, carrots, parsnips, and red lentils, boiled until the lentils are soupy and the veggies are soft. Blended up in a high-powered blender (I live by my Blendtec!) with some fresh cracked pepper and Celtic sea salt. YUM. I had meant to put strips of honeycrisp apples on top but forgot … so more honeycrisps for me on Sunday :)

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Beth October 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Oops! Almost forgot a main ingredient: mild curry powder. Lots of it.

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janet @ the taste space October 22, 2012 at 7:40 pm

What a gorgeous meal. I think I would swoon and die if someone made m this. Love the stacked squash entree! :-) can’t wait to see you recreate this, Gena. :-)

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bitt October 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm

What a wonderful meal, it appears to be all gluten-free and vegan? Please tell Beth I’m moving to DC. ;-) Feastly is an interesting concept, I hope it does well and expands to more parts of the country. I’d love to participate.

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Beth October 22, 2012 at 9:46 pm

The meal was 100% vegan, and gluten free other than the biscotti (which are optional). Maybe you can join us in DC for a future dinner? I also think Feastly has expanded to New York, but don’t know the details well. If you want more information, I’d be happy to put you in touch with its organizers.

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Lindsay Loves Veggies October 22, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Sounds like your dinner was delightful! I hope that someday soon I can meet a group of truly health-conscious people in my area.

Also, thank you for touching on bio-individualized nutrition within veganism. It’s so important that people understand that no one specific diet is going to work for them, but that by playing around with raw vs. cooked food, experimenting with macronutrient ratios, and listening to their bodies, that they can find a vegan diet quite comforting and satisfying. :)

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity October 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I really enjoyed reading this.
Your answers to some common questions when people argue about veganism are great!
Sounds like an it was a fantastic night. Thanks for sharing with us x

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Beth October 22, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Thanks so much for this amazing write-up, Gena! I’m humbled and amazed by the positive feedback I’ve gotten from this dinner and especially thrilled to see how lovely it looks and sounds in the way you memorialized it here. I hope you’ll come back soon, either for a Feastly dinner or just one of our regular dinner parties! You’re welcome back any time!

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how to shop for retro glasses and fashion glasses October 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Wow nutritious food. Wanna try making this one.

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Nicole October 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Oh my goodness, that little squash/yam stack sounds incredible! Makes me want to try it at home, same with that thick n’ creamy soup. Too bad it’s almost 9pm here and I’m out if squash – otherwise I would be totally be on it!!

Thank you for sharing, Gena!

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Seth October 22, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Hey Gena, it was great to meet you at dinner the other night. The food was surely delicious, and I picked up a few good ideas for vegan-style cooking. Although I eat meat, and in fact run a company that sells local and sustainable meat, I am trying to learn to eat less of it.

Anyhow, the point I was attempting to make when citing the historical relationship between humans and their domestic animals was that leaving animals out of our diet entirely is a move that brings us further away from nature rather than closer to it. I am also disgusted by things like factory farming and the amount of unhealthy meat we consume as a nation, but animals certainly have a place on a traditional, bio-diverse farm, and in a traditional human diet. Domestication in and of itself does not constitute slavery: farm animals and humans have co-evolved over millennia. We have a form of a social contract in place that both species benefit from.

Death is also not the same thing as suffering. Death is a part of life. Animals can be given a good life and a painless respectful death. Although I respect the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle very much, I do not think it is amoral to eat meat on occasion. If one does choose to eat meat, however, it is important to ask questions and learn where your meat comes from, how it was raised, what it was fed, and how it died. We should make choices about what to buy based on this information and not just price and convenience.

Thank you,
Seth Cooper
White House Meats

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Therese October 23, 2012 at 5:24 am

Hello Seth,

I understand where you are coming from; like most people I know you seem to care about the well-being of other animals. We are outraged by the horrific abuses animals have to endure in factory farming facilities – and rightfully so.
But for me the question remains: why would we choose to kill an innocent being, when there is no necessity to do so? I believe that justifications along the lines of “because we can” or “because we always have” are very dangerous.
In her work Melanie Joy sheds light on the psychological and sociological aspects of eating meat and provides an answer to the question I posed above. I agree that our choices should be based on asking questions, which is why I would highly recommend watching Joy’s presentation “The Psychology of Eating Meat” (which many of my vegan and non-vegan friends enjoyed) on YouTube. I very much hope you will enjoy it as well.

With kind regards from Austria,
Therese

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Gena October 23, 2012 at 9:47 am

Hi Seth,

Likewise! I was so glad to meet you, and I am grateful for the free trade of ideas. I’m also really grateful to you for sharing your perspective here on CR. I think everyone reading would agree with you that, if one is going to eat animals, the important consideration is the question of how the animals were treated prior to slaughter. I do appreciate your decision to bypass and protest conventional factory farming as a consumer, and I especially respect your choice to reduce your consumption overall. That’s so great, and if you got any inspiration from me (though it was Beth who really inspired us all culinarily), I’m flattered.

When I started responding to this comment, I started to write about the idea of sentience, which is one of the cornerstones of my own veganism. Given that animals are intelligent, feeling creatures with rich inner lives, I see no reason why I should participate in breeding them and then killing them, especially given that there is no biological reason for me to do so. It isn’t necessary (I can be perfectly healthy without doing it), and the pleasure I’d get from it is far outweighed by my conviction that I’d be needlessly interfering in the lives of creatures whom I consider worthy of my reverence. That said, I think your major point here is about the idea of nature, and about evolution, so I’d like to respond primarily along those lines.

I don’t disagree that eating animals is “natural” in the sense that it was part of our prehistoric evolution, and that we’ve done it for a good long time. But I think I draw a distinction between “natural” and “justifiable.” If you told me that war or slavery—both of which have existed since the dawn of human civilization—were justifiable on the grounds that they were “traditional,” or that we’ve always done them, I am not sure I’d be convinced. I’d want to know whether they were necessary, whether or not they cause needless suffering or violence, and whether or not they make sense in the world in which we live.

I also think it’s a bit arbitrary to say that animal husbandry (as opposed to occasional hunting) is “natural”; traditional, sure, but no more natural than any other system or structure human beings have erected in our societies. We’ve come to rely on animal husbandry because we put it in place, not because it exists as a part of a primitive order. You brought up the notion of lactase at dinner: our capacity to digest non-human milk has come about as a biological adaptation to circumstance. Many people all the world over still lack the ability to digest lactose. Whether or not one can is a matter of evolution, not a sign that cow or goat milk is “what nature intended.” Indeed, I’d say that lactase is simply evidence that we are a miraculously adaptable species. And there are other issues associated with animal husbandry: viruses and parasitism among them.

My point is that animal husbandry, no matter how woven into the tapestry of human development and often advantageous to us, is as artificial as many parts of human culture and society. If “nature” is your primary ethical touchstone (and again, that premise is one I’d take issue with anyway), I’m not sure that animal husbandry fits neatly into that category.

To your point about death as a part of life, I once again think that is a curious analysis of what is “natural.” Of course death is a part of life—vegans don’t claim that animals ought to live forever—but does it then follow that we should bring them into the world specifically so that we can kill them and eat them? And is “death” the same thing as slaughter? I personally draw a distinction between death and killing; it’s one thing to point out that all living creatures die, quite another to say that we human beings are entitled to oversee that process, and quite another still to say we’re allowed to play executioner. Again, it seems to me that “nature” is being conflated with a systematic practice that is entirely of human devising.

In the world in which we live—a world in which billions of animals die for no reason other than that we like the way they taste and we’ve eaten them for a long time; a world in which we have the nutrition information we need to plan healthy, well rounded vegan diets; a world in which we have B-12 supplements galore, and can thus bypass the only urgent health risk of choosing a vegan diet; a world in which animal agriculture is wreaking havoc on the planet and countless crops are being used to feed livestock, rather than people; and a world in which there is no longer any biological need for us to eat animals (note that “us” denotes people who have access to plant-based foods, not people who are starving, who lack access, or who live in food desserts)—I believe that the best choice we can make for animals is to stop consuming them altogether.

I would also say that I think the problem with promoting meat that is local and grass fed—aside from the fact that there can still be abuses of animals that go on behind closed doors, and that I consider the killing itself to be violent, even under more “humane” conditions—is that it still gives off the message that we need to rely upon animal products. As long as people regard breeding, killing, and eating animals as a necessity, they’ll find ways to do it cheaper and easier, and abuses of animals will slip into the cracks. I would rather show others that life can be rich, full, delicious, and healthy without any animal foods at all, and speak out against their commodification at human hands.

I don’t disregard the fact that human beings evolved as omnivores, Seth, and I do recognize that eating animals has been a part of both our development and our culture. That’s what makes this an intricate debate. But the necessity of eating them is no longer there, and there are so many reasons to opt out of eating them in this day and age–not to mention a fundamental respect for their consciousness that drives my choices–that I see opting out as a logical choice. In this way, I regard veganism as very modern and forward thinking—a choice I make that fits the world in which I live currently—rather than an attempt to recreate or take my cues from a premodern paradigm. Whether or not it is “natural” in the sense of “primitive” matters less to me than the fact that it feels sensible, appropriate to my circumstances, and compassionate.

Once again, I am so grateful for your feedback on this.

Gena

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Lucinda October 23, 2012 at 4:43 am

Hi Seth, hope you don’t mind me chiming in but it is an interesting discussion!

I hear and understand what you are saying, this is certainly a complex issue that involves many facets. As people sometimes remind me, tofu and cashews don’t grow locally to me but meat can be raised and I do see what they are saying though there are locally sourced vegan options too.

However it is this idea of a ‘social contract’ that doesn’t sit well with me as it is a contract written and exacted by humans and for humans. We may be able to give animals a good life but we have bred them to be increasingly less intelligent and more docile than their wild counterparts for our own convenience. Also there will always be suffering involved at the time of death because the animals know exactly what is going on.

I agree with you that death is not necessarily a bad thing and can in fact be beautiful, but I don’t believe it is up to me to make that choice, just as I can’t and wouldn’t make the choice as to which humans live or die. Modern research shows how animals, even ones that we think of as ‘dumb’ like chickens, have much greater conscious awareness that we had previously given them credit for and can show empathy with others and understanding of their circumstances. We see more and more how alike we all really are.

I always appreciate hearing other views though and learn lots from them.
All the best,
Lucinda

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Gena October 23, 2012 at 10:17 am

Great comment, Lucinda. Thank you!

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Catherine October 23, 2012 at 8:49 am

Every single morsel of this food looks delicious. I don’t know which course I want to try replicating first!
I wish something like Feastly existed where I live (AL Gulf Coast). You’d think in a historically agricultural state, sustainable food and groups of people who live more sustainable lifestyles would be abundant–but, sadly, that’s not the case.
I know very few vegans personally, but each day I try to incorporate more vegan (& raw) dishes into my diet. This seems like a great way to share both nutritious & tasty food and ideas from other like-minded (though diverse in some ways) people.

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keishua October 23, 2012 at 11:33 am

this meal looks amazing and the concept of feastly is great. i am in the area and would like to meet more vegan folk. i wonder if they often have vegan options are is this just something to be on the look out for.
i am on a non-food related forum and the i feel better when i eat animals thing came up. it is such a tricky topic. i love your answer though and may use it.

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Christa @ Edible Balance October 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Wow, what an incredibly gorgeous looking dinner and fabulous idea for a dinner party event!

While I agree with one of the diners who talked about the fact that we’ve historically always eaten meat, in the very early days (ie biblical times) meat was considered a rarity and for very special occasion. It was highly valued and sacred, not how it’s being consumed today.

I agree with you, it’s not necessary, I find that eating a plant-based diet has been quite liberating since I’ve transitioned. It’s made me step completely out of my comfort zone and I’ve learned so much about fuelling my body properly (not being a junk food vegan). I am so grateful for it!

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the delicate place October 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm

that stack looks delicious! i thought of you this past weekend when i took my veggie sister in law to a raw vegan place called ‘eden’ i chose the raw collard wraps with ‘beet meat’ and a lentil hummus. i never ate raw collard wraps until i found some recipes on your site! it was so good, i wanted another…but i saved my room for the raw pumpkin pie :)

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Lia October 23, 2012 at 4:05 pm

That is just PRETTY! It’s wonderful. And it isn’t often that we get to read/hear about multi-course gourmet vegan experiences. What a treat this must have been for you all. Biscotti, yum!

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Rachel October 24, 2012 at 3:28 am

Beth! You’re meal looks incredible!! Super impressed, so creative and delicious-looking! Makes me miss our brunches in D.C. before I left! I would love to a Feastly event when I’m back there sometime.

Miss you!
~ Rach

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Beth October 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm

And we miss you, Rachel! Come back to DC soon, please!

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Crystal P. October 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I love this. Thanks for sharing :)

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elise October 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm

wow. what an evening. i wish i got invited to dinner parties like this!! im so impressed beth!

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