living underground in the real world

of earth balance and the state of American veganism in 2008

No EB here!

Vegans of Color’s post about Earth Balance has given me the courage to post this journal entry about the state of the vegan culinary universe at this particular moment in time:

Dear vegans, vegan chefs and bakers, and vegan companies:

I LOVE YOU! But can we talk a little?

Here’s how I see that it’s gone down:

We all became vegan long ago, in the mists of time. We missed cupcakes and birthday cakes with super sugary colored frosting. We ate a lot of really shitty vegan food – cakes with frosting made from carob powder and brown rice syrup, frosting made from tofu and vanilla and maple syrup, nothing else. Dark ages, truly.

Then we began to grow up a little, experiment a little. We stopped reading the Moosewood Cookbook and those god-awful PETA cookbooks and started writing down our experiments. We realized that nonvegans were actually right: Macaroni and Chreese in the brown box was the absolute worst thing ever.

We wisened up.

Then – when did it happen, exactly? Was I in college, is that why I missed it? – along came Earth Balance Buttery Spread.

Now we have mindblowing strawberry shortcake and cinnamon buns and cupcakes with their giant caps of frosting. I will be the very first to admit that I love all these things – sometimes. Walking around the Lower East Side and popping into Teany for a peanut butter bomb has enriched my life. I deeply understand these desserts. I missed birthday cake and cupcakes and colored frosting too. I’m so happy we can now have it. I am truly glad this stuff is out there in the world.

Not this exact stuff though – no EB in this black forest cake!

However (and please hold the above statements in your heart as the read the rest of this)….

I never thought that the vegan food revolution would be about recreating supermarket white trash hydrogenated-oil desserts.* People complain that veganism is a white middle-class movement, and I’ve never seen anyone exactly point to these desserts as evidence of why, but they could. I’m not saying that the de-whitifying of the vegan movement is on your shoulders, vegan Earth Balance-addicted bakers, truly, I am not. It is work we all have to do. But there is a hugely giant world of non-cupcakey desserts out there that your amazing veganifying talents would benefit from.

What about me? Well, though I am a professional chef, my business is small – just 25 clients or so. I’m not good at dealing with customers face-to-face, so I don’t want to open a restaurant or a bakery, and I’m too busy with other passions to write a cookbook. So I think about you all often, and your lovely status in the vegan public eye, and I so wish I’d pop into your businesses and get a raspberry fool or a clafouti or an Armenian cardamom bread. Something made with traditional ingredients in vegan ways, not processed soy and more processed soy.

I know you’re going to tell me that EB isn’t processed, and I know you’re going to tell me that your customers wouldn’t buy such things and mine only eat them because they don’t get a choice about which dessert they get. EB may not be processed (the sticks have soy protein isolate though, don’t they?) but it must be said that they leave that greasy residue on the tongue that is the telltale “not butter, never will be” tip off to nonvegans and vegans with discerning palates.

We’ve had a good run with the cupcakes and the cakes that are more frosting than cake. But is there a way to indulge in these ultra-sugary treats once in a while while slowly turning our attention to more interesting desserts than strawberry shortcake with spongy California strawberries?

As I was having lunch last week at an unnamed vegan bakery in an unnamed city with my (vegan) mom, she summed it up: “I had to order cake, because it’s so rare for a vegan to get cake like this. But after two bites I already feel bloated and crazy from the sugar, and I’m going to take the rest home. I’m glad it exists, but I think I’m just too old to get too excited about it.”

Through 30 years younger than her, I feel the exact same way.

Also, how GIANT is that cake? I would have made it into three pieces, my mentor Selma at Bloodroot would have made it into five. We both just stared at it when it came out.

.

*For the record: I am not in favor of the term “white trash” as it seems to say that people of color are implicitly trash, but I will let it slide in order to make my point for now.

16 Responses to “of earth balance and the state of American veganism in 2008”

  1. Carrie

    I feel ya. There are two new vegan restaurants in my neighborhood which I guess I should be excited about, but it’s all this stuff, tofu hollandaise and pink cupcakes, diner food, served with a side of attitude. So wish there was something out there that was delicious, whole, health-supportive, without being the nut loaf of the old days.

    Reply
  2. zp

    “I never thought that the vegan food revolution would be about recreating supermarket white trash hydrogenated-oil desserts.* People complain that veganism is a white middle-class movement, and I’ve never seen anyone exactly point to these desserts as evidence of why, but they could.”

    Oh, hilarious.

    I point to those desserts (and the bumper stickers, have you seen the awful bumper stickers?) all the time. I’m tiresome that way. But I feel like, in real life, you and I would never have this conversation because you would be walking off in a huff as soon as I said, “I’m not a vegan, but . . .” I feel like you did a post on this once.

    It wasn’t until I was in fancy liberal arts college, though, that I learned that some people called non-white people trash. I thought the *only* trash was white trash . . .

    Reply
  3. lagusta

    Heya Carrie! OY! Tofu hollandaise sounds terrifying….though in fairness I make a great tofu sour cream, but I have a feeling tofu hollandaise includes vegan mayo, which is so weird to me.

    And zp – HA! I wouldn’t walk off in a huff! I would just silently judge you. No, knowing you cool you are, I would totally listen and agree, although I do feel like there is a little bit of a thing here where no vegan will listen to anyone who tells them that all this Earth Balance is crap unless they themselves are vegan. Today I decided to be that vegan.

    The “I’m not a vegan, but..” people don’t really bother me, because I totally know that being vegan is sometimes difficult. And I don’t mind if people are like “I’m not a vegan, but I’m trying, and I love vegans!!” The thing that kills me are the annoying “I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat red meat/only eat local meat/only eat fish etc.” I can’t stand that stupid conversation – why non-vegetarian people always have to confess their sins to vegetarians is so telling…Argh!

    Anyway, weirdly, I just went and read I Hate the NYer today and your observations are spot on as usual!

    Reply
  4. Veronica

    I am ashamed to admit that sometimes I use EB. The more I think about it, the more it freaks me out, because it is so not real food. I think I’m at a stage in my veganism (not to sound all high and mighty) where I’m ready for simpler, cleaner tasting food (like yours!). I’m so glad you had the courage to post about it!!

    Reply
  5. lagusta

    For the record, I don’t see what’s wrong with using EB once in a while. Because I never got into the habit I haven’t developed a taste for it, but don’t feel guilty for a little EB schmear on toast once in a while! : )

    Reply
  6. lagusta

    Ah, that is your fun work to do, my friend. Report back on your findings. I’m just here to provide jumping off points!

    Reply
  7. johanna

    Thank you for this post! Also v. interesting to hear about the coconut oil (that you mentioned over on VoC — thanks!!) — do you know what, if any, are the ethical impacts of coconut oil? I don’t know anything at all about how it’s harvested or grown, or by whom…

    Reply
  8. Jordan

    This was so funny. I laughed so hard my cat came in the office to see what was wrong.
    I’m so glad I found your blog. I know this entry was almost a year old I just couldnt let it go bye, without saying, Thankyou!

    Reply
  9. adrienne

    I love this post! Since I first read it (and your other EB tirades) about two months ago, I have slowly been transitioning to coconut fat as my full-time fat. I’ve mostly been using it on the stovetop for all-purpose sautéing, since about two weeks ago Atlanta got an early heatwave and the temperature inside my house shot up to 85 degrees, turning the coconut fat liquid! Scary! Also, I didn’t get a stand mixer – essential for your frosting – til recently!

    I am definitely a penitent earth balance user. Honestly, I didn’t ever see a problem using it occasionally til I started reading your blog, so thanks for educating me. Now I rue pulling it out of the fridge. I felt uncomfortable using it in all the goodie boxes I sent out last week as part of my contest, but my coconut fat at that point was still liquid. Sigh. So I used it. And while I am totally looking forward to redoing everything with coconut, I have made peace with my decision. 19 of my 20 contest winners were non-vegetarian; only one was even vegetarian. I managed to draw some extraordinary social diversity with this contest – the winners were mostly lower-middle class to lower class (?! what’s the PC way to say that? I’m from the low class, myself!) women who know nothing of the horrors of their factory-farmed food. Or that food coloring is a neurotoxin that’s causing ADD; whose knees ache from too much weight from a lifetime of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food. My people.

    I purposely recreated things that were familiar to them – rice crispie treats, oatmeal creme pies, milano cookies – because that’s the same shit I was raised on as a country girl. “These are my people”, I kept saying to myself as I baked. I was lucky to get out, but they’re still there. So no matcha, no cardamom, no orange flower water… I wanted to make safe, familiar things that would make them feel comfortable and loved as they perused a Mercy for Animals tract for the first time (YES, I included a possibly insufferable amount of vegan literature in their boxes – the opportunity was just too rich!) Short on time, Earth Balance was easy and familiar and coconutifying all the junky recipes not so much. Next time, though…

    Reply
    • adrienne

      Oh – and “my people” kept excitedly adding that they’d never had vegan food before. Um. They meant vegan processed food, I hope… not apples, carrots, celery, tomatoes, basil… etc, etc, etc, etc, etc…

      Reply
  10. lagusta

    woooo!

    ok, couple things:
    -I’m *sure* you thought of this, but if your coco oil is liquid and you want it solid, just put it in the fridge for a minute or two.
    -When I’m at a restaurant or in NYC, where EB-frosted vegan cupcakes seem to glare out at me from every corner, I have one and thoroughly enjoy it. No shame in the game, man. I personally can’t stand it in my house, but I truly don’t judge people (my mom, for example) who spread it on toast in the mornings and things.
    -I think it’s really beautiful what you did with your contest treats (which reminds me! i’m eagerly awaiting my secret box!!!).

    Reply
    • adriennefriend

      ok yay, thanks for the follow-up. So there’s no loss in quality/consistency/magic if coconut oil melts and then firms up again, melts and firms? I was just worried! And it seemed to take a long time to firm up in the fridge, AND it was uneven… sigh!

      Reply
      • lagusta

        No way, I’ve firmed and melted it a million times and it’s been fine. It’s pretty resilient. :)

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